Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Premier of the Yukon Ranj Pillai, pose for a photo in the Cabinet office during a visit to Whitehorse on Thursday. (Photo by Justin Kennedy/Government of Yukon)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Premier of the Yukon Ranj Pillai, pose for a photo in the Cabinet office during a visit to Whitehorse on Thursday. (Photo by Justin Kennedy/Government of Yukon)

Dunleavy makes first official Yukon visit, signs Alaska Highway maintenance agreement

In his first official visit to the Yukon during five years as Alaska’s governor, Mike Dunleavy signed an agreement that commits more than $31 million to repairing a damaged section of the Alaska Highway.

The new memorandum of understanding, signed Friday by Dunleavy and Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai, affects the section of the highway between Destruction Bay and the Alaska border.

Under the terms of the agreement, Alaska will provide funding, and the Yukon government will perform the repairs.

More than four-fifths of the traffic that uses that stretch of highway involves vehicles driven by Americans to and from Alaska.

“By working cooperatively with our neighbors in the Yukon, we can help ensure that people traveling to or from Alaska on the road are able to do more safely with fewer road hazards,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

Since 1977, the United States and Canada have followed the Shakwak Agreement, which calls for the United States to pay for the paving and maintenance of the portion of the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction to the border and for the Haines Highway from Haines Junction to the border.

Congress cut funding for the agreement in 2013, and American money ran out several years later. Since then, the road’s condition has deteriorated, causing the Yukon to limit speed limits in particularly rough places.

The federal infrastructure bill of 2021 included funding for Shakwak work, and Alaska’s draft four-year transportation plan calls for spending $31.25 million in state and federal money on the effort between 2024 and 2027.

The Yukon government has estimated that the full cost of the project may be up to CA$500 million ($370.37 million).

The highway memorandum signed Friday was part of a five-year agreement between Alaska and the Yukon to “work together on matters of joint concern and mutual interest” and share information on common issues.

Talking to Canadian journalists on Friday, Alaska and Yukon officials said those issues include security and wildfires.

Dunleavy told the CBC that the threatened shutdown of the Port of Seattle during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency caused his administration to revive talks about the Alaska Highway and relations with the Yukon.

“We decided at that point that we aren’t going to wait for somebody to take care of us,” Dunleavy told reporters, according to the CBC. “We have to start acting like a sovereign on our own.”

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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