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Alaska News

Richardson Highway reopens after avalanches near Paxson

  • Author: Tess Williams
  • Updated: December 28, 2019
  • Published December 26, 2019

Update, 9:30 a.m. Saturday: The Richardson Highway was reopened Friday night after avalanches closed the road Thursday morning. For road condition updates, check the Alaska 511 system.

Original story:

The Richardson Highway will remain closed — possibly until Saturday morning — after avalanches covered the road at Paxson, north of Glennallen, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Crews were working to clear the highway from mile 180 to 205 early Thursday, but department spokeswoman Caitlin Frye said treacherous conditions have delayed the process. On Friday, DOT said 4-foot snow drifts were covering the length of the closed section of highway.

Blowing snow and 40 to 50 mph winds caused whiteout conditions Thursday afternoon, Frye said. Plows and maintenance crews were unable to continue working and traveled back to their stations at 5 mph to stay safe, Frye said.

“We’re encouraging people not to drive if they don’t have to," she said. DOT said in a statement Thursday afternoon that multiple vehicles had driven past barricades informing drivers of the closures, and that DOT staff had to bring the vehicles back to safety.

A car was stuck within the closed area Thursday morning because the snow was so deep on the highway, Frye said. The car wasn’t hit by an avalanche, but Frye said the roads were slick from falling snow. DOT reported 16 inches of snow on the road around 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

It's pretty rare that we'll pull our operators off a road due to conditions, but this will give you an idea about why we...

Posted by Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities on Friday, December 27, 2019

Frye said avalanches at miles 213 and 220 had already been cleared early Thursday. A pickup was caught in one of the slides but Frye said it has since been freed. No one was injured.

Frye said the avalanches completely covered the roadway. At Mile 213 the debris stretched 150 yards and at Mile 220 it was 100 yards, she said.

The DOT is urging drivers to check road conditions before leaving home. A new 511 travel information system is launching Friday morning and Frye said current users will have to re-register for alerts online or download the app again to get updated information.