Orange Barrels A Plenty


Growing up in Wisconsin, we used to say there were two seasons: Winter & Road Construction

Let’s just say Wisconsin doesn’t have a monopoly on that joke.

Even if you never visited Alaska, you would probably assume two things — that we have roads, and the winters are long.  Well, roads need to be fixed every so often, and its hard to fix a road when there is a foot of snow on top of it.  Ever since the last bit of snow melted, Anchorage has been crushed by road projects all over town.  Some of it is simple pot hole filling, some of it is putting down a new surface, and some are massive with potential to change the landscape of the city.  For instance, I deal with a reconstruction project on the New Seward Highway (the closest thing to a freeway in the entire state, a two lane split highway connecting the Glenn Highway (the road north out of town) as well as downtown to the south side and the Seward Highway (there is an Old Seward four line city street still in town, so that’s why there is New and Old).  The project they work on currently expands a two mile section to three lanes, creates frontage roads to give better access to city streets, and improves an overpass to allow safe passage of a 7-mile long Campbell Creek Trail.  So no small feet.

The construction crews have crazy work ahead of them.  It’s hard to engineer for Alaskan roads, because between the surface and the bedrock, there is usually a portion of permafrost.  While this usually isn’t a problem to dig through, permafrost acts funny when you run pavement and cars over it, meaning sometimes they melt and sometimes not – so the ground isn’t consistent, which makes the roads worse.  There isn’t a lot of places in town to get or put fill either, so trucks run constantly between sites to remove from one place and give to another.

On top of it all, they move fast.  Where I get on the New Seward to head to work used to be an easy split off of a frontage road from a roundabout.  Every day, split changes – two weeks ago we took the frontage road to a 90° turn across the old lanes of traffic to our on-ramp.  Today we drove up a dirt and rock hill for a 1/4 mile until we saw pavement – the closest it seems I’ve gotten to needing 4 wheel drive since the winter.  Soon, that ramp will close for a couple of days, and when we return we will get the smooth ride … until we hit the torn up old pavement area and the half finished bridge.

I don’t complain too much about the construction though, not because I am used to it.  With all this summer labor needed, they take what they can get – which means college kids to hold the “stop” or “slow” signs — which actually means college girls trying to get a nice tan holding those signs.  Somedays, I feel with the orange outfits and the “labor” out there, they are an order of chicken wings from being a Hooters.


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