The Richardson Highway north of Valdez will be open on Wednesday by 3 p.m., the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Tuesday morning. The road serves as the sole ground connection for the Southcentral Alaska community, and a series of avalanches has shut it down for 12 days thus far.
DOT is “confident that we’ll have it all clear by tomorrow morning,” and the road will be open by the afternoon, said spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow. On Friday, DOT estimated that the road would be open in 3-5 days.
“They were working around the clock to make sure they could get the work done,” Woodrow said.
The Richardson Highway is undamaged, Woodrow said, except for some guardrails and road signs. DOT will continue to monitor the snow pile until it all melts -- and there’s so much snow that it may not even melt this summer, DOT said on Sunday.
The series of avalanches that shut down the road starting Jan. 31 dumped 40 feet of snow on the road, and 100 feet of snow on the Lowe River. The slide dammed the river, spilling water into the Keystone Canyon and creating a lake that submerged roughly half a mile of roadway and halted snow clean-up for days.
Crews moved between 100,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of snow from the roadway, DOT estimates. Crews terraced the snow so it won’t cave into the road again. Workers are also building a wall of snow behind the terraces to help keep any future avalanches this winter from falling into the road.
The city of Valdez did not suffer any shortages of food or fuel, and the airport and port remained open through the event. Nevertheless, Sheri Pierce, Valdez city clerk, said that residents are “extremely happy” that the road will be open again.