8:50 a.m. update: The Alaska Highway has been reopened to a single lane of traffic through washed out areas in the Yukon, according to the Yukon government's highway website. Motorists are advised to expect lengthy delays.
FAIRBANKS — Construction of a temporary detour road has begun on a critical stretch of the Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory, but there is no official estimate for when the road will re-open.
Washouts closed several roads through the Yukon Territory during the weekend. The most significant is a 150-mile stretch of the Alaska Highway north of Watson Lake.
While crews are working around the clock to repair the highway, the Yukon Territory Department of Highways and Public Works does not have an estimate of when the Alaska Highway will re-open because it does not want to create false impressions among motorists, department spokeswoman Jennifer Magnuson said. The department advises people planning to drive the Alaska Highway to not hit the road until it is re-opened, she said.
It’s asking stranded travelers to be patient. Information on road re-openings will be posted on the website www.511yukon.ca. When the highway does re-open, the department plans to lead trucks carrying supplies first before allowing smaller vehicles to fall in behind, “We want to avoid any speeding or bottlenecking,” Magnuson said.
For Alaskans trying to get home, the Alaska Highway is closed north of Watson Lake, a small town in southern Yukon Territory known for its street sign forest roadside attraction.
Former Ryan Smith Middle School principal Mike Behner has been stuck in Watson Lake since Saturday on his way back from what he thought was going to be a quick trip to get a pickup in Oregon.
The town is crowded with semi-trailers, RVs and other vehicles waiting for the road to re-open, he said. Hotel rooms and sandwich ingredients are hard to find and some people are sleeping on the floor of the transportation department’s information office.
“There is absolutely nothing to do. Everyone is just wandering around and wandering around,” he said. “Everyone here is being nice, helpful and friendly but it’s just a waiting game.”
There were rumors in town that Monday was going to be the day the road opened, but that ended up not being the case, he said. Some of the supplies in the trucks made it out of Watson Lake, but aboard a Hercules C-130 cargo plane, not on the road.
In addition to the Alaska Highway, the unpaved Campbell Highway to the north also is closed because of the rains. It is not expected to be drivable until after the Alaska Highway detour is finished. The only drivable route into Alaska from Watson Lake involves a long detour south to Prince Rupert to catch an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry to Haines or Skagway.
Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation said the reservation line for the ferries has not been overwhelmed since the Alaska Highway closed, but there are only a handful of departures from Prince Rupert for points north, he said.
This story will be updated.