The two lane Seward Highway follows the curves of the Chugach Mountains along Turnagain Arm.
Its official name is the
Nevertheless, there were men who believed in the potential of this land, and at the small settlement on
This construction climbed mountains, required tall trestles built in a circle so a train could gain elevation, forded rivers, and dynamited the toes off huge bedrock mountains to scratch out enough room to lay rail along a fifty mile long fjord-like saltwater estuary with some of the highest tides in the world.
For many years, the railroad was the main method of reaching
Finally, in 1951, a road linked
My mother is the one who dubbed that highway the “
Captain James Cook, searching for the elusive
After the eleven year old was killed, Chief William Chadwick of the Girdwood Fire department called a meeting. His crews were sick, he said, of putting people in body bags. The meeting was held in Girdwood last Friday. The day before, two teenagers died in a crash involving five vehicles, and the highway was closed for almost six hours while EMTs tended to the injured, and State Troopers documented what had happened.
The highway is scabbed with orange spray paint on the black asphalt, paint that outlines skid marks, paint applied by police investigating accidents.
Everyone agrees something needs to be done to reduce the carnage. Everyone thinks a four lane, divided highway is the optimum solution, but the price tag and the years of construction required to reach that solution seem like a pipe dream. So if the cost is estimate at $600 million, how many children have to die to make it worth the price?
Some think placing concrete dividers called
The stretch from Girdwood to Potter Marsh is designated a “safety corridor,” and double fines apply to traffic violations. ( After this implementation in 2006, fatal and major injury accidents were reduced by 77 per cent that year.) Many people at the meeting called for more police presence on the road, and were told that is already in the works, yet I drove that stretch of highway four times in eight days and didn’t see a single trooper. I did notice, however, that on Friday—the day after the two teenagers were killed—traffic held steady at 55 mph or slower and no one attempted to pass.
What will come of the suggestions made at this standing room only meeting, only time will reveal. The fire chief has asked for people to e-mail suggestions to him.
A quick tally of the accidents where a cause was listed reveals 23 deaths involved drugs and/or alcohol, 13 were attributed to unsafe speed, and five to inattention. For many, no cause was listed, though there were a number involving improper lane usage and passing unsafely, which was the cause announced in Thursday’s accident that killed two teenaged boys who were struck head-on by a pickup whose driver was attempting to pass several vehicles. He received minor injuries.
That seems to be an over-riding cause. Drivers are anxious to reach the fishing grounds, drivers gawk at the jaw-dropping scenery, tired drivers fall asleep, motor homes drive slower than the speed limit, and impatient drivers attempt to pass.
So, the question is what to do to reduce the carnage on a stretch of road designated one of the top ten scenic drives in the
From an estimated 6000 vehicles a day in the winter to more than 22,000 a day in summer, it bears more traffic than it was designed for.
My own idea, which I will e-mail to the chief in Girdwood, is to reduce the speed limit in the safety corridor from 55 mph to 45 mph. And, in those sections of the highway now designated at 65 mph, it should be reduced to 55 mph. It won't stop the carnage, but it can be implemented immediately and might give motorists a precious split second to avoid head on collisions. Yes, it will take a little longer to reach your destination, but it might also improve your chances to reaching it at all.
My hope is that a return to 55 mph all the way to the
In the meantime, for the first time since the early 1960s when I began traveling the highway frequently and then subsequently moved to two different communities along that road, I hesitate to drive it. Instead of the mini-van that gets 26 mpg, I use my mid-sized pickup that gets 16 mpg, because I feel safer in it, safer from other drivers and the moose that cross the pavement in the mountainous areas.
And I think back to the mid Fifties when my mother dubbed it the
(Click on photos to enlarge to full screen.)
The beginning of both the Seward Highway and the historic Iditarod Trail, in Seward on Resurrection Bay.
Trail Lake, Mile 31, near Moose Pass.
Mile 58, near Summit Lake.
Near Johnson Pass trail head, Mile 63.
Autumn colors near Jerome Lake, Mile 39.
Dipnetting for hooligan (smelt), near Twenty Mile River, Mile 81.
Rainbow in Bird Valley, Mile 101.5
Wildflower-covered tundra in Turnagain Pass, Mile 67.
Near Mile 93.The Alaska Railroad parallels the Seward Highway, hauling freight and passengers.
Para-sailing at Twenty Mile River, Mile 80.
Tern Lake, Mile 37
Dall sheep near Mile 106.
Mt. Alyeska resort (skiing and tourism) from Mile 90 at Girdwood.
Near Mile 98.
Bird Creek, Mile 101.5, fishing for pink salmon.
Eagle nesting alongside the highway at Mile 17.
Turnagain Arm from the Hope Highway.
Near Mile 58, Silvertip, a calm section of Six Mile Creek.
Six Mile Creek Class V rapids near Mile 58, popular for rafting and kayaking.
Near Mile 76.
Bore tide near Mile 81.
Migrating swans taking a break at Tern Lake, Mile 37.
Near Mile 36.
Jerome Lake, Mile 38.
Beluga whale near Mile 85.
Tern Lake Mile 37.5.
Bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Park, Mile 79,dedicated to the rescue of orphaned and injured animals.