Haul Road Closure
Many of you may already know that the Dalton Highway/Haul Road up to the Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse Pipeline hub was recently closed at the end of March due to major overflow from the Sag River. Well it was a little more than overflow that closed the road…the water was merely a ‘part’ of the problem…that area was slammed with a 1-2-3 whammy! Initially the overflow was the first issue and ice needed to be scraped up into berms for about 2-3 miles with heavy equipment to dam the water up…this worked for a short time. The overflow, over several days, had backed up for thousands of acres of buckling blue ice and was held back amazingly well by heavy equipment operators building the ice berm. Only a small trickle was coming under the berm in one spot and flowing over the road creating a little ditch with water running through it…ironically this seemed harmless enough. Winds were forecast to increase to 30 mph the next day…which again seemed harmless enough. However in the affected area south of Prudhoe the winds were much, much stronger. When the high winds hit so did the combo whammy…high winds certainly created whiteout conditions with visibility near zero but also put pressure on the ice-lake of overflow. In a short time the ice berms were breached, water burst over the road, snowdrifts built up and the State Road Crews were in dangerous conditions and could not keep up with it. 65-80 truckers with various supplies were stuck on the south side, most having to keep their rigs running for 2 days, and about as many were on the north side waiting to get through. One trucker who had run the road for over 35 years had said he had never seen anything like it before. The water peaked at about 3 feet deep & snowdrifts were 6 feet high. Skies were crystal clear & sunny though…above the ground blizzard! Winds in the 50-60 mph range created wind-chills to minus 45°-50°f. Heavy equipment became mired in overflow and thick ice and had to be extracted. After a break in the winds & with the road crews working 24 hours a day, they managed to open up a one lane “pathway” to get the northbound trucks in. Camps were running low on food & supplies so it was good to get those stranded vehicles in as soon as possible…then the road was closed again to get a handle on the ice & water. On day 3 of the closure a notification went out for those heading southbound that the road would be temporarily opened around 10:00 am, one-lane, chains on commercial rigs & 4X4 trucks only! After a 3½ hour wait a large convoy of assorted rigs were able to run the “river road” out…it took 70+ minutes to drive 5 miles through sections of 6-18’ of ice & water. With temps at -7°f you don’t splash water under your rig. Since then the road has been impassable & closed several times and is now closed today for “heavy equipment extraction” and brutal weather conditions. This may possibly continue for a month or more...at least until breakup & the Sag River drains into the Arctic Ocean again! As one of the State Road Maintenance Crewman said; “It’s a mess”! Having safely come through the ordeal, I now have a very healthy respect for all those truckers that run the Haul Road all year long enduring all the various conditions that thwart their progress along the way.