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Photos: Inside Whittier's Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

A vehicle enters the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, North America’s longest combined rail-highway tunnel, on Thursday, June 19, 2014. The tunnel connects the town of Whittier to Portage, and the rest of Alaska.
Loren Holmes photo
Tunnel control operator Daniel Gutierrez monitors traffic from 60 video cameras at the tunnel control center on Thursday, June 19, 2014. All tunnel operators are also firefighters trained to respond to an accident inside the 2.5 mile long tunnel.
Loren Holmes photo
One of two specially designed firefighting trucks stationed at the entrances to the tunnel, each equipped with both tires and rail attachments, which allow it to travel faster through the tunnel. June 19, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
In addition to large firefighting trucks, the tunnel operators have ATVs, which can move around cars within the tunnel. June 19, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Driving through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, North America’s longest combined rail-highway tunnel, on Thursday, June 19, 2014. The tunnel connects the town of Whittier to Portage, and the rest of Alaska.
Loren Holmes photo
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, North America’s longest combined rail-highway tunnel, on Thursday, June 19, 2014. The tunnel connects the town of Whittier to Portage, and the rest of Alaska.
Loren Holmes photo
Massive air handlers keep the 2.5 mile long tunnel supplied with fresh air. June 19, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
The 2.5 mile long tunnel has eight safe houses, which can provide refuge during an emergency. June 19, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
The tunnel walls are a mixture of bare rock and concrete, shown here. June 19, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, North America’s longest combined rail-highway tunnel, on Thursday, June 19, 2014. The tunnel connects the town of Whittier to Portage, and the rest of Alaska.
Loren Holmes photo
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, North America’s longest combined rail-highway tunnel, on Thursday, June 19, 2014. The tunnel connects the town of Whittier to Portage, and the rest of Alaska.
Loren Holmes photo
The rail line that runs through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel terminates in Whittier, which was built during World War II. The Buckner Building, seen here, was built during the cold war and has been abandoned since the 1964 earthquake. June 19, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Tourists watch the Chenega fast ferry pulls into the dock in Whittier on Thursday, June 19, 2014. Departing is the ferry Aurora.
Loren Holmes photo
Megan Edge

Fourteen years ago, the $80 million Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel opened for the public to drive cars, motor homes and trucks hauling fishing boats between Portage and Whittier. Despite a toll-free tunnel the first year, the state overestimated tunnel traffic, and its financial prospects seemed questionable. But more than a decade later, traffic through North America's longest tunnel has finally picked up to the point the state is earning a profit.

Facility manager Gordon Burton credits the uptick in traffic to Alaska's slow but steady acceptance of the one-of-a-kind tunnel. He said it took time for people to accept the tolls, which range  from $10 to $300, depending on the mode of transportation. Some 83 percent of the vehicles taking to 2.5-mile journey are "Class A" vehicles, largely passenger vehicles not pulling a trailer, according to the Department of Transportation. As expected, May through September bring the highest revenue as fisherman, boaters and tourists flock to Prince William Sound.

Last year, the tunnel brought in more than $1.7 million, just $200,000 less than its peak in 2005. Traffic has ramped up from 172,986 trips in 2001 to 234,738 in 2010 -- a 36 percent jump. Tunnel revenue backs the maintenance of the tunnel, pays to clear snow and help train every tunnel employee become a certified firefighter, said Burton. 

The unique passage wasn't always so popular. 

"At first," Burton said, "people were a little resistant. Even after a year of no tolls, people still weren't sold. We initially saw a dip in traffic, but then it came back up."

Despite the high cost of taking the train to Whittier, people missed the nostalgia of it and Alaskans were unfamiliar with paying tolls for any road. Whittier residents feared that easy access would bring crowds and chaos.

"The town wasn't ready for it," said Charlie Eldridge, a resident since 1991. "We didn't have a lot of businesses and we had no public restrooms."

In the fall of 2000, Whittier residents expected their bathrooms to be overrun, parking lots to be full and traffic to be snarled once the tunnel opened. But then tunnel manager Greg Hall told the Anchorage Daily News that far fewer people used the $80 million tunnel than projected.  Hall said Whittier didn't have enough money to promote the unique tunnel well, and doubts persisted about whether the tolls would stifle growth.

But by 2003, the tunnel was making $1.2 million in revenue. And like Whittier has always done, the town adapted to change.

Read more: As traffic grows, Whittier tunnel flourishes during summer months 

Correction: A photo caption in this slideshow initially stated that the safe rooms inside the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel had never been used. They had previously been used in one instance when a school bus broke down inside the tunnel.