Parks Highway gets summer facelift

Megan Edge

Neon orange and silver cones line the George Parks Highway as family caravans and adventure-seeking tourists, piled into luxurious buses, take the trek along the scenic highway that connects Anchorage to the Golden Heart City of Fairbanks. Each detail is an Alaska staple and a sign of the summer season, but a series of construction projects -- another staple of summer -- could make the 362-mile drive feel a little bit longer.

Known more commonly to Alaskans simply as the Parks Highway, the road is being resurfaced, expanded and improved from Mile 43.5 near Big Lake all the way to Fairbanks.

Spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' Central Region Jill Reese said there are several projects underway on the Parks. She said some may set the journey back a couple of minutes, but others could cost drivers an hour.

"(Construction crews) just work every hour they can and hope for Mother Nature's cooperation," said Reese. "If there is anything that is going to slow a job down, it's bad weather."

What to expect

From Milepost 43.5 to 44.5, drivers can expect a 20-minute wait if traveling through the area between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Reese said the project will ultimately expand the existing five-lane stretch of road. The expansion project aims to help the traffic congestion caused by a recent increase of development in the area. Reese said this summer's work is just one part of a three-phase project.

From Milepost 123 to 146, work that won't officially begin until July, according to Reese, could hold back traffic up to an hour once it begins. This stretch of the highway currently has poor road conditions, according to DOT. There will also be drainage improvements, brush clearance, and replacement of guardrails and signs posted. Drivers should expect reduced speed limits as flaggers and pilot cars guide traffic.

A multiyear project at Milepost 194, outside of Cantwell, is expected to begin in July and end in the fall of 2016. The $21 million project is supposed to make the area safer by eliminating an S-curve and removing an "at-grade railroad crossing," according to DOT. Drivers can expect 20-minute delays.

From Milepost 272 to 265, the first phase of a $30 million project looking to add passing lanes is underway. Between Nenana and Healy, three passing lanes will be added, sections of the road will be paved, signs will be erected and the road will be stripped. A much longer phase, the second half of the project, will add seven more passing lanes between miles 197 and 269. DOT said drivers can expect 50-minute delays.

Reese said construction is to be expected this time of year in the Last Frontier. She encourages travelers to make the best of the delays and enjoy the scenic beauty that only Alaska can offer.