OPINION: Is Alaska making wise highway decisions?

My head swirls with the various highway projects in Alaska and questionable decisions being made at the state level. Millions of dollars were spent for the Seward-Glenn Highway connection with a design that no longer serves our needs. Millions have been spent on the Cooper Landing bypass with costs now so escalated that this project, discussed since I was a teenager in the 1970s, is stalled.

Millions of infrastructure dollars are being directed to rebuild still-functioning Richardson and Steese Highway bridges that will primarily serve the needs of private gold ore mining companies while other highway bridges languish. The $450 million price tag for the proposed West Susitna Access Road is being challenged as a government subsidy to private foreign industry.

With the exception of improvements on the Seward Highway in Anchorage, at Portage and outside of Seward, the lack of funding for our existing highway maintenance is shameful. I recently traveled from Anchorage to Dawson City using the Glenn, Richardson, Tok Cutoff, Alaska, Taylor and Top of the World highways.

Those improvements on the Glenn, especially in the Glacier View area, are much appreciated. Yet other dangerous, curvy, narrow sections haven’t been improved one iota since I was a passenger in the 1960s! The King Mountain bridge is, thankfully, being rebuilt, but with the encroachment of the Matanuska River, I predict future news reports where the one highway which provides the most direct entrance and exit to Alaska has been taken out by the expanding waters.

And who needs to ride the roller coaster at the Alaska State Fair when you can drive the Tok Cutoff highway? The Department of Transportation might invest in hundreds of “dip and bump” signs, but instead drive very slowly and cautiously, lest you take out your springs or puncture your tire like we witnessed with others.

The “paved” Taylor Highway is a nightmare with potholes, bumps, dips, washboard, eroded sides, loose gravel; 35 mph is the maximum safe speed and be prepared to brake to a crawl to allow two vehicles to pass in some areas.

The Canadian side of the Top of the World Highway is not paved, but a dusty gravel road that needs yearly washboard grading, yet it is wide and smooth enough to travel at 60 mph; we welcomed the lack of “pavement.”


Curiously, on the American side after the Eagle junction, you are treated to 13 miles of smooth, paved road right to the border. Is this to serve as an illusion for those arriving in Alaska about our highways? We witnessed caravans of RVs and vehicles from the U.S., Canada and Europe on these highways. Most have probably vowed never again to drive these routes.

Should we only focus on those highways that the majority of Alaskans drive, rather than visitors? I believe this is shortsighted; tourism is a renewable resource that could be an even bigger driver in our economy if we wisely develop it. Didn’t I just read visitors spend more than $2 billion annually in our state, providing many jobs?

In Switzerland, I learned tourism generates more than $12 billion annually, and it’s a country smaller than the Kenai Peninsula! Just imagine what we could be offering tourists with 36 times more area.

The cruise industry has reached saturation, concentrating visitors in parts of the state. Improvements to our highways and visitor amenities, including campgrounds, could spread the tourism dollars to many other areas.

The Parks Highway, with the exception of sections around Denali, is a great corridor to drive. Can we expand on what we’ve done well in this state? Do we Alaskans have the will to hold our politicians’ feet to the fire to work in the best interest of our state?

Tam Agosti-Gisler is an Anchorage resident and former member of the Anchorage School District School Board.

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