The Interior Feature

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Alaska Highway History

It's hard to overestimate the importance of the Alaska Highway in the state's history. Before World War II there was no road connection between the Alaskan Interior and the rest of North America. Alaska's population center was in the coastal towns of the Southeast panhandle region, and most of the state's commerce was conducted along its waterways. Access to the Interior was via riverboat until 1923, when the railroad connection from Seward through Anchorage and into Fairbanks was completed.

The onset of World War II changed everything. An overland route to the state was deemed a matter vital to national security, to supply war material to the campaign in the Aleutians, and to fend off a potential invasion by Japan. In a feat of amazing engineering and construction prowess (and hubris—the United States started construction in Canada without bothering to ask the Canadian government if it was okay with them), the 1,500-mile-long route was carved out of the wilderness in eight months in 1942. The original road was crude but effective (the first truck to travel it made a blazing average speed of 15 mph), and has been undergoing constant maintenance and upgrading ever since. Today the highway is easily traversed by every form of highway vehicle imaginable, from bicycles and motorcycles to the biggest, lumbering RVs, known not so affectionately by locals as "road barns."

Updated: 2014-01-22

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