Without U.S. funding, the north Alaska Highway may be a rough ride in Yukon

'The road deteriorates every year,' said Jon Rudolph, vice president of operations for Cobalt Construction.

U.S. government no longer contributing money to Shakwak Project

The north Alaska Highway in Yukon, from Burwash Landing to Beaver Creek, is frequently plagued by frost heaves from thawing permafrost. (Mike Rudyk)

A Yukon construction company says the north Alaska Highway needs steady upkeep, and could easily become impassable without upgrades.

The section of highway from Burwash Landing to Beaver Creek, Yukon, is frequently plagued by frost heaves from thawing permafrost.

The U.S. government has helped pay for the Shakwak Project to maintain the road, but not anymore. That has the Yukon government wondering how it will afford the necessary work. 

Cobalt Construction has been involved with the Shakwak Project for 20 years.

"The road deteriorates every year," said Jon Rudolph, vice president of operations for Cobalt Construction.

"Depending on what's happening with different years, you get different frost heaves and different breakups, culverts collapsing because of the permafrost — and so it's a very difficult area." 

'For the Yukon government to spend a bunch of money on it doesn't make a whole bunch of sense,' said Jon Rudolph of Cobalt Construction. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Rudolph estimates about 85 per cent of highway traffic is from the U.S., with the other 15 per cent from Yukon.

"So, for the Yukon government to spend a bunch of money on it doesn't make a whole bunch of sense, and that's why the U.S. government was funding it — because it [is] a major transportation link for Alaska," said Rudolph.

The goal of the Shakwak Project has been to reconstruct roughly 500 kilometres of the highway to a two-lane, 100 km/h standard, with realignments where needed to meet modern standards.

Engineers have been using the latest technology to control permafrost thaw on some sections of the highway and continue to do so.

Rudolph says the Americans should continue to finance the repairs and upgrades to the road.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of American visitors use the highway through Yukon to go to and from Alaska.

'We've been running on the fumes from that funding' from the U.S., said Yukon Highways Minister Richard Mostyn. (Mike Rudyk)

Running on fumes

Yukon Minister of Highways and Public Works Richard Mostyn said this week that the U.S. funding for the highway dried up a decade ago.

"It's money that ended in 2009, and we've just managed to feather it out. It's like the gas ran out in 2009, we've been running on the fumes from that funding, like, stretching it as far as we can every year," Mostyn said.

From ​1​977 to 2009, the Yukon and federal governments have accounted for 74 per cent of the capital and maintenance cost on the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway, including the north Alaska ​Highway.

Mostyn says it will take roughly $340 million to finish upgrading the north Alaska Highway.

He says it won't happen anytime soon, and drivers are going to have to slow down and live with bumps for the foreseeable future.


Mike Rudyk

Reporter, CBC Yukon

Mike Rudyk has worked for CBC Yukon since 1999, as a reporter and videographer. He lives in Whitehorse.


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