This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
The Department of Transportation is responding to concerns over the closure of the Silver Tip Maintenance Station near Hope, which housed equipment and operators responsible for Turnagain Pass corridor maintenance on the Seward Highway.
In an Oct. 24 press release, Alaska Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon raised a lot of concerns and misunderstandings.
MacKinnon said the department has closed four maintenance stations in the last four years, all in response to budget reductions. He said the maintenance division is operating with $22 million less than it had six years ago.
“With these reductions, we have responded by investing in better, more reliable equipment, and more efficient chemicals to pre-treat roads for anti-icing instead of after-the-fact deicing,” MacKinnon said in the release. “We have pursued these efficiencies in order to make up for reductions of staffing, equipment and commodities. We have been successful at insulating the public from feeling the impacts of budget reductions.”
The assets from the Silvertip station are being deployed at the Girdwood and Crown Point stations, which will be taking over the maintenance of that highway. The Silvertip Station will still house equipment as well as sand and chemicals to deal with road conditions, the release said.
“We will have the resources of two maintenance stations to respond, instead of just one. This is how we have managed other station closures,” MacKinnon said.
This section of the Seward Highway will move from having intermittent 20-hour coverage to continuous 18-hour coverage, the release said. Service will be provided between 4 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“Truth is, none of the state’s highways have 24-hour snow removal coverage,” MacKinnon said. “Much of the Dalton, the Parks, and the Richardson are maintained less than 12 hours a day. We simply do not have the resources to cover all hours of the day. We never have.”
When conditions are bad, the department says it will have the ability to expand working hours, and in severe weather events there may be a temporary road closure. The release said that this practice has always been the case for the Seward Highway and all other highways.
“While we anticipate this to be a rare occurrence, the potential of a closure occurring is still there, as it always has been,” MacKinnon said. “Our equipment operators do an incredible job with limited resources. They are creative, hard-working and will always go the extra mile to help people in need. They take pride and ownership in the roads that they maintain for Alaskans. They know they are dealing with the safety of their family, friends and neighbors. Without their work ethic, we would have been feeling the impacts of these leaner budgets quite some time ago.”