Capital Budget Proposal Adds Four Fairbanks-Area Highway Bridge Replacements

Feb 23, 2023 | Construction, Government, News, Transportation

steese highway

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Replacements for four more highway bridges in the Fairbanks area would be built with funds proposed in Governor Mike Dunleavy’s amended capital budget for Fiscal Year 2024.

Up to Modern Standards

The Johnson River bridge on the Alaska Highway was already slated for replacement in the State Transportation Improvement Plan. Amendments this month add four bridges: Gerstle River and Robertson River on the Alaska Highway, the Chena Hot Springs Road undercrossing on the Steese Highway, and Milepost 346 (Northbound) of the Richardson Highway between Eielson Air Force Base and North Pole.

The four bridges have presented challenges for heavy freight haulers traveling to or from Canada and between the Port of Valdez and the North Slope for many years, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF). The Robertson River and Gerstle River bridges were built in 1944 and are well below modern standards for width. Also, the overhead truss structure on the Gerstle River bridge restricts vehicle heights. These restrictions impede commercial truck loads and make them vulnerable to strikes and subsequent damage and load limitations.

“We have bridge infrastructure on our National Highway System routes in the Interior that date back to the World War Two era,” says DOT&PF Commissioner Ryan Anderson. “We have a great opportunity to replace aging assets, improve safety, and ensure economic vitality to Alaska’s Interior.”

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Bridge design standards have significantly evolved since these bridges were constructed. Replacing the bridges will upgrade the crossings to current structural and seismic standards, including bridge railings designed for modern vehicles and highway speeds. The replaced bridges are expected to have a design life of seventy-five years, accommodating transportation needs well into the future.

The Johnson River and Gerstle River projects are budgeted for $35,400 and $16,000, respectively, and $1,000 is added for the Richardson Highway project at the Chena Flood Control Bridge, all federal funds. The Robertson River project will be funded with prior authorizations from contingency funds, as will the Steese Highway project. The items were added to a $547,741 amendment to the $2 billion supplemental and capital budget proposal that Dunleavy introduced in December.

The Steese Highway project is scheduled for construction in 2024 after detailed design is completed this year. The Johnson River bridge is also scheduled for replacement next year, followed by the Gerstle River bridge in 2025. Construction is also scheduled for 2025 on the Richardson Highway project, which is in the preliminary design phase this year.

DOT&PF adds that the condition of the bridges has been part of conversations surrounding proposed mining development in the eastern Interior, such as the Manh Choh project near Tok, which would haul ore to the Fort Knox Mine up the Steese Highway, northeast of Fairbanks. 

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