Congress’s recent failure to renew funding for a federal road maintenance program could impact tourism and trade in Haines.
Funding for the Shakwak Project, a decades-old agreement between the United States and Canadian governments regarding reconstruction and maintenance of the Alaska Highway, was not renewed in this year’s federal highway bill.
The U.S. government typically funds the project at $30 million annually, money the Yukon Territorial government uses to reconstruct and maintain the Alaska-Canada Highway – the only road connecting Alaska to the contiguous United States.
If the U.S. fails to uphold its side of the bargain, the Yukon Territorial government could decide to shift maintenance money away from the road corridor between Haines, Haines Junction, and the Alaska border and toward the road between Dawson and Whitehorse. Such a decision could jeopardize Haines’s potential as a transshipment port for ore and other minerals, and could also deter tourism if the road deteriorated significantly, said Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest.
Earnest said while some of the highway has been reconstructed and maintained, the area between Destruction Bay and the border still needs a lot of work.
“The rest of the highway has been pretty well upgraded, but that’s the last remaining section. And that is the part of the highway between Haines and Tok. And we have a lot of commerce that goes though Haines; a lot of fuel trucks currently. A lot of cargo freight goes through here with Alaska Marine Lines,” Earnest said.
Borough lobbyist Brad Gilman sent Earnest a letter Dec. 7 after Gilman met with Carl Burgess, the intergovernmental relations officer for the Executive Council of the Yukon Territory.
Gilman said Burgess informed him that the Yukon Territorial government currently allocates 10 to 15 percent of its annual road maintenance budget toward the road between Haines Junction and the Alaska border, and would “greatly reduce the amount of money budgeted for maintaining the North Alaska Highway” should the U.S. renege on its agreement.
Gilman said such a decision could potentially discourage companies from using Haines as a transshipment port, and would make Skagway a more attractive alternative for new mineral development.
“Road maintenance may end up being a factor in the decision of the Wellgreen Mine and other potential operators on where to route supplies and ore. A fully reconstructed and well-maintained North Alaska Highway may improve opportunities for the use of Port Lutak in the Yukon mining development. A deteriorating North Alaska Highway may, in contrast, result in the routing of supplies and ore down the central Yukon Territory,” Gilman said.
Assistant to the borough manager Darsie Culbeck said while the project is important to Haines, it’s also important to Alaska.
“It’s the route between the continental United States and Alaska. It’s not just this part between us and Haines Junction. It’s the part from Haines Junction to Beaver Creek that loses money. And so you can’t drive to Alaska. It’s less about Haines than it is about the bigger picture,” Culbeck said.
The borough assembly identified the Shakwak Project as a federal priority in a resolution it passed Dec. 11 authorizing its legislative priorities for the upcoming year.
Gilman said Congress “intends to take up a multi-year reauthorization of the highway bill next year.”