The ALCAN Highway was built during World War II and connects the USA (the “Lower 48”) to Alaska by going through Canada. It stretches from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK (southeast of Fairbanks). Back then, it was 1,390 miles (2,235 km) long but is shorter today due to rebuilding and straightening. The historic end of the highway is near Mile 1422, where it meets the Richardson Highway in Delta Junction, AK, about 99 miles (160 km) southeast of Fairbanks. The ALCAN Highway was later renamed the “Alaska Highway.”
Construction officially started March 8, 1942 after hundreds of pieces of construction equipment were moved near Mile 0 at Dawson Creek, BC. Construction accelerated through the spring as the winter weather faded away and crews were able to work from both the northern and southern ends. Construction also accelerated after reports of the Japanese invasion of Kiska Island and Attu Island in the Aleutians (Alaska). On September 24, 1942 crews from both directions met at Mile 588. That site was named Contact Creek and is located at the British Columbia/Yukon border at the 60th Parallel. The entire route was completed October 28, 1942 with the northern linkup at Mile 1202.
Portions of the highway became a “corduroy road” or log road in the low or swampy areas. This type of road is created by positioning logs side-by-side and perpendicular to the direction of the road. Then, the logs are covered by sand or gravel. The result is an improvement over impassable mud or dirt roads but is a bumpy ride under the best of conditions. Early on, some 70 miles (115 km) of the ALCAN highway between Burwash Landing, YT and Koidern, YT, became virtually impassable during May and June 1943. as a result of construction, the permafrost melted since it was unprotected by a layer of vegetation. A corduroy road was built to restore the route. Corduroy still underlays old sections of highway in the area.
Modern construction methods do not allow the permafrost to melt by building up gravel as a kind of insulation. However, the Burwash, YT-to-Tok, AK section is still a problem. The new highway built there in the late 1990s continues to experience frost heaves.
The ALCAN Highway was originally considered one of the greatest engineering/construction successes in the world due to its complexity and speed of completion. It was started March 8, 1942 and completed September 24, 1942—a bit over seven months to complete approximately 1,700 miles (2,700 km) of road through wilderness. By today’s standards, it takes nearly that long just to set out the orange traffic cones!!!
This construction project simply got “lost” in history due to the news of World War II but it is still there and you can drive it up or back from Alaska.