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Vine Road, a national symbol of Alaska’s big quake, reopens to traffic

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: December 12, 2018
  • Published December 10, 2018

LEFT: People walk over the section of Vine Road damaged in the earthquake on Nov. 30, 2018. (Jonathan M. Lettow via AP) RIGHT: Vehicles travel over the repaired section of Vine Road on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

WASILLA -- The cratered Mat-Su road that became a symbol of Alaska’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake is at least temporarily fixed and open for drivers again.

Vine Road reopened to through traffic over the weekend after a temporary repair job by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and state Department of Transportation. State transportation officials said it wasn’t yet clear how much the repair cost. Borough officials last week estimated a $3.5 million price tag for permanent repairs come spring.

The earthquake’s epicenter on Point MacKenzie was within 25 miles of Vine Road, a heavily used shortcut between Wasilla and Big Lake.

An Anchorage Daily News aerial photo that circulated around the country the day of the quake showed the mangled section of road as it crosses a low-lying swamp: massive slabs of upended pavement riven by huge cracks, like a giant bowling ball came crashing down.

Now drivers might not even recognize the once-shattered section of road that became a national icon of quake damage.

“I went out yesterday,” Matt Ketchum, a Wasilla contractor who helped supply gravel for the repair job, said Monday. “It looks really, really good. It’s remarkable what they did, paving it.”

The road attracted a stream of selfie-takers and families with kids until authorities warned them off, citing dangerous conditions, the potential for aftershocks and the inability of road crews to work with gawkers around.

Vine Road, south of Wasilla, was heavily damaged by an earthquake on Nov. 30. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Mat-Su Borough land surveyor Dayna Rumfelt takes measurements among the rubble at the earthquake-damaged Vine Road on Dec. 3. (Bill Roth / ADN)

A social-media suggestion briefly made the rounds last week asking if a new road should bypass the shattered section, leaving the damaged part as a tourist attraction and a “unique opportunity to document history in place.” The Facebook post on a popular Mat-Su news group drew 300 comments in three hours before the original poster asked administrators to take it down because it was attracting too many people to go play in the damage.

Repairs on the road finished Saturday and came in two parts, officials say.

First, the Mat-Su Borough removed the giant chunks of broken asphalt that had become “an attractive nuisance” to people climbing around in the cracks, public works director Terry Dolan said. Then, at the borough’s request, the state transportation department handled the actual repairs.

Vine Road is Now Open for Traffic! - Otto Feather Emergency Services Director

Vine Road is now open for traffic! Thanks to the close collaboration between the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Vine Road temporary repair work is now complete, and Vine Road is open for traffic. We are fortunate to have support in this great effort by Borough contractors Northern Asphalt and McKenna Brothers Paving. Permanent road work is scheduled to take place sometime next summer. #AlaskaEarthquake

Posted by Mat-Su Emergency Management on Saturday, December 8, 2018

Permanent road work is scheduled to place this summer, borough officials say.

State and borough officials couldn’t estimate the cost of the temporary work. A temporary repair was also finished for Point MacKenzie Road.

The repairs are only temporary, Dolan said, because any road repair during cold months can make for weak pavement because of the difficulty compacting underlying soils and the pavement itself.

Still, the average driver on Vine Road this week may not even realize they’re crossing a repaired section at all, he said. “You may have a hard time finding it. You’ll see flexible fiberglass markers, four on each side. That may be the only way you recognize it.”

An SUV travels over the recently repaired section of Vine Road on Sunday, Dec. 9, that was heavily damaged during the 7.0 earthquake just over a week ago. (Bill Roth / ADN)
Vehicles travel over the recently repaired section of Vine Road on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, that was heavily damaged during the 7.0 earthquake just over a week ago. (Bill Roth / ADN)
Colton Symbol, with Northern Asphalt Pavers, carries a roll-end off the construction site on Vine Road, Thursday afternoon, Dec. 6, 2018. Matt Ketchum, of K&H Civil Constructors said that they should be paving the section of road that was destroyed in the Nov. 30 earthquake Saturday, Dec. 8. (Anne Raup / ADN)