Wet weather delayed the opening of the first new road to an Interior village in decades, but the road to Tanana is finally set to make its debut. Next week, the road is slated to officially open for traffic. It’s a historic development that speaks to the limited amount of transportation infrastructure in Alaska, as well as the many hurdles faced in expanding that infrastructure.
The idea of a road to Tanana had been batted about for many years before construction began. Those pushing for expansion of Alaska’s road network saw it as a logical step, extending from Manley Hot Springs down the existing Tofty Road, then an additional 20 miles to the Yukon River on the opposite bank from the village. For former Gov. Sean Parnell, it was a stepping stone among several paths pursued under his “Roads to resources” framework. And while Gov. Parnell never won final approval for several other roads on that list, such as the ambitious and hotly debated road to Nome, the road to Tanana did become a reality, with construction beginning in summer 2014, during the final months of his administration.
Technically speaking, the road to Tanana isn’t so much a road to the village as it is to the Yukon River’s south bank a few miles away. To reach the village itself would require a bridge, one whose expense would likely dwarf the total cost of the road itself. Still, having a road so close to town will reduce the cost of reaching Tanana for residents and visitors alike.
It’s important to acknowledge that not all residents in Tanana see that increased connectedness to the rest of the state as a positive. Though it will reduce the cost of transporting groceries and fuel, it will also likely increase traffic by out-of-town hunters who may make finding game more difficult for local residents. Like other villages faced with the prospect of growing connections to Alaska’s urban centers, some are also worried about the erosion of traditional culture and increased problems such as drug traffic from outside the community.
The positives, however, will be considerable. Communities off the road system in Interior Alaska pay as much as $10 per gallon for heating fuel, a sum that makes Fairbanks’ struggles with high energy costs look like a trifle. Though the new road is relatively rugged and less robust than even the most weathered stretches of the Dalton Highway, it should still provide some measure of price relief for fuel. And groceries, which formerly required transport via a slow boat or expensive plane flight, can now be fetched with a short boat ride and a few hours’ drive into Fairbanks.
The road to Tanana has been a long time coming, and it hasn’t been without its challenges, from politics to weather. But there’s a new road to an Interior village for the first time in two decades, and that’s reason for celebration — or at least a sigh of relief.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,