Two Alaska highways reopen after weekend snow closures

Two northern Alaska highways closed by heavy snowfall reopened Monday.

Highways north of Fairbanks saw 7 to 9 inches of new snow Sunday and high winds that caused snow to drift. State transportation officials ordered extended plowing despite a state budget crunch.

The heavy snow had closed the Steese Highway, a mostly gravel road that starts in Fairbanks and extends north and east 161 miles to the Yukon River community of Circle.

The snow also closed the Elliott Highway, which starts north of Fairbanks and leads to Dalton Highway, the land artery to North Slope oil fields.

Plow crews do not work into the night on sections of some roads, said Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey.

The department closed the Elliott Highway from miles 73 to 110, which includes the junction with the Dalton Highway. Crews cleared the area Monday, Bailey said, but truckers on the Dalton Highway faced delays from either snow or plows.

“There’s a lot of snow removal happening so it’s definitely slow-going,” Bailey said.

The Dalton Highway never officially closed but was listed as hazardous. Truck drivers know there is no night maintenance, Bailey said. If the highway is impassible, or if drivers get stuck in a drift, they will hunker down and wait for a plow, she said.

A storm continued to drop snow around Deadhorse, she said. Colder temperatures were forecast.

Plow crews were working overtime on the highways and in Fairbanks.

“We are very cautious about overtime in this budget climate, but this is an instance when we do have people working extended hours,” Bailey said. “There’s no way with our straight shifts that we can possibly get everything cleared out.”

The Steese Highway had closed from miles 80 to 114, a stretch that includes Twelve Mile Summit and Eagle Summit. Road officials closed avalanche gates at Eagle Summit because of the danger of a slide.

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