By Larry Persily

The Alaska Department of Transportation started up its new road conditions website and app the last week of 2019, coinciding with the busiest days so far this winter for the state highway crew in Skagway.

“We’ve already put more sand down this year than last year,” Department of Transportation (DOT) foreman Shaun “Bubba” McKnight, said Dec. 31. With temperatures in the 20s, moisture in the clouds and 31 inches of snow at the Klondike Highway summit over the seven days after Christmas Eve, “it’s what we call perfect bad weather,” he said.

“It definitely has kept us busy,” McKnight said. “We’re already well ahead of last year in terms of snowfall.”

There was one brief closure on the Yukon side of the summit, due to a “wind-aided snow slide,” but none on the Alaska side, he said.

State-maintained roads are designated Priority 1 through 4 for clearing after a winter storm, based on traffic volume and importance to the community. The Klondike Highway is designated Priority 1, while Dyea Road is a Priority 3 and could wait up to 24 hours after a storm for clearing, according to the DOT website.

The department directs most of its limited overtime budget toward keeping Priority 1 roads clear, Sara Brown, a department spokeswoman, said Jan. 2. “At this time … we perform no overtime on Priority 3 and 4 roads.”

The Haines Highway also is a Priority 1 road. The below-average snowfall of the past couple of years has masked the budget cutbacks on overtime, Matt Boron, DOT station foreman in Haines, was quoted in the Dec. 12 Chilkat Valley News. “We get into a more typical winter when we see a lot of snow, then it’s going to look a little different,” Boron told the newspaper.

Overtime restrictions have not changed for this winter, Brown said. “Overtime is not an open-ended allocation,” she said. “There is no emergency funding for routine weather-event response.”

The governor’s proposed budget for the state fiscal year that starts July 1 is similar to this year’s spending plan.
To help with winter travel, McKnight advises drivers to take full advantage of the state’s new traveler information system, which went live Dec. 27. The website, 511.alaska.gov, includes crowd-sourced travel conditions, a map of closures and road work, and access to live camera feeds from highways around the state. Users can register on the website or through the app to receive travel alerts.

The new Alaska 511 app is available for free download on iTunes and Google Play store.

The state’s Road Weather Information System provides additional camera views and detailed weather information at roadweather.alaska.gov, including the camera stationed on the Alaska side of the White Pass Summit.

The Yukon Territory maintains a similar highway conditions website and app at 511yukon.ca.