At long last, the man who loved big projects and big roads, might soon have his own proper Alaska highway.
Alaska House lawmakers are considering renaming a 7.5 mile portion of Minnesota Drive in Anchorage for Wally Hickel, former U.S. Department of Interior Secretary, Alaska Independence Party member (for a little while, that is), two-term governor and founder of Institute of the North.
Hickel is one of Alaska's most famous and beloved politicians, a man who helped rebuild the 49th state after the devastating 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The man who took on the oil industry. The millionaire who could always relate to the "little guy." The man who bulldozed a road from Fairbanks to the North Slope oilfields without getting permits or even holding a public hearing.
"I drove [the tractor] the first six or seven miles myself," Hickel said. "I got off and I told Jim, I said, don't you shut this thing off until you get to Prudhoe Bay."
Even though the environmentalists considered it an environmental disaster, as was his wont, Hickel was forever unapologetic. He thought it worth it. "That road changed Alaska," he said later. "It opened up the minds, the hearts and hopes of Alaska."
The "Hickel Highway" scar remains. And now, he might finally get the highway that should have been.
Here's the "sponsor statement" for House Bill 115, offered by Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, in support of renaming Minnesota Drive as Walter J. Hickel Expressway from 15th Avenue downtown, all the way to the Seward Highway at O'Malley Road:
Walter J. Hickel served as the Governor of Alaska twice, served with distinction as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and led and inspired the development of the State of Alaska and the Circumpolar Arctic Region throughout his long and distinguished career. In Governor Hickel's many elected and public roles he successfully pushed to open Prudhoe Bay to oil development and oversaw the permitting process for the trans-Alaska pipeline among many other accomplishments.
According to the sponsor statement, homes and businesses along Minnesota Drive wouldn't be required to change their addresses.