To the editor: With pressure mounting to use Interior Alaska’s highways as industrial ore hauling routes beginning in 2024, I would like to provide recent updates.
I have traveled the highways from Northway to Fairbanks 12 times over the past two winters (October through April) and several times in the snow-free season as well. Let me describe typical scenarios along hilly and winding sections including the lengthy section from Northway to just east of Tok (the Taylor Highway junction) and equally undulating and curving areas northwest of Big Delta and Quartz lake, through Tenderfoot to Salcha.
Highway traffic traveling the 65 mph speed limit often has sighting distances to pullouts of little more than 1/4 mile. Travel homes exiting or pausing to make a left-hand turn into an overlook cannot gain speed rapidly enough to avoid collision with a 160,000-pound ore truck rounding the bend. Nor can school buses, whose frequent stops will put students and drivers at great risk.
In early February 2023, my husband and I avoided possible collision with military trucks that skidded off the road and overturned east of Tenderfoot. The convoy stretched for miles. I had followed such a convoy in November 2022 from Tenderfoot to the Big Delta bridge, with no safe opportunity to pass. What is Kinross’s safety plan for such regular occurrences, and equally common congestion in summertime? Tourists visiting the state, children riding school buses, military personnel and others commuting to workplaces will be put at tremendous risk if we blindly allow this hare-brained scheme to proceed.
It is worth a trip through this area to picture the true hazards that await unsuspecting drivers. These highways were simply not designed as major ore haul routes. Kinross says they can’t make a profit without using them, but a 2018 study of the proposed Tetlin area mining project by Royal Gold suggests otherwise. And we should inquire — what dollar value does Kinross place on human lives that will be lost annually?
Shame on them for failing to acknowledge this reality, and other ill-conceived aspects of their “plan,” from noise pollution to health hazards of increased PM 2.5 emissions in the non-attainment area of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.