Monday, June 17, 2013
Heavy Rains Close Parts of Taylor, Steese Highways
Mudslides and washouts caused by heavy rain closed parts of the Steese and Taylor highways on Thursday, cutting off access to Yukon River communities at the end of each road
7:55 a.m. update: The Steese Highway has been reopened between 152-158 miles, but travel is not advised. Many areas are one lane; the road is rough with many soft spots. If travel is necessary, please use extreme caution and be prepared for delays, crews are working on repairing the road.
FAIRBANKS - Mudslides and washouts caused by heavy rain closed parts of the Steese and Taylor highways on Thursday, cutting off access to Yukon River communities at the end of each road.
Multiple mudslides blocked the 160-mile Taylor Highway from Tok to Eagle between miles 114 and 116, according to the Department of Transportation.
Washouts on the 161-mile Steese Highway from Fairbanks to Circle City closed the road at 152 Mile. Several areas of the road between miles 152 and 158 that were washed out, according to DOT.
DOT personnel were hoping to get both roads open sometime this weekend, said Meadow Bailey, spokeswoman for the northern region of DOT.
One of the Taylor Highway slides was all the way across the road, Bailey said. All the creeks that cross the highway were running at full capacity and it was still raining Thursday afternoon, she said. There also was water running over the Taylor Highway between miles 85 and 86, but the road was still passable and DOT crews were working to reroute the water, Bailey said.
“It’s our hope that the rain will stop soon and that we’ll be able to clear the road in a day or two,” Bailey wrote in an email late Thursday afternoon. “There’s not much we can do while it’s raining, so the road reopening is partially dependent on weather.”
The Top of the World Highway, which branches off the Taylor at 95 Mile and leads to Dawson City, Yukon, was not affected by the slides and remained open, as did the rest of the Taylor Highway.
On the Steese Highway, Bailey said DOT crews will start repairing the road today if the water running over the road has diminished.
The mudslides that closed the Taylor Highway and washed out the Steese Highway on Thursday occurred after an inch or more of rain fell in the Fortymile country during a 24-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday, said meteorologist Bob Fischer at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. The heaviest rain is over, though isolated showers will continue today in the area, he said.
State highway officials can only hope the situation doesn’t develop into a repeat of last summer.
Heavy rain in early July washed out vast stretches of the Taylor Highway and resulted in closures and convoys for the next three months as workers tried to repair the road — only to have that work erased by more rain. More than 5 inches of rain fell in the Fortymile basin during July last year.
The resulting flooding caused an estimated $6 million in damage, stranded dozens of motorists and resulted in the drowning death of a U.S. Customs agent whose truck went off the road and landed in a swollen creek. Gov. Sean Parnell declared the road a state disaster in late July.
Contact the staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.