Repairing the Lifeline for Alaska’s North Slope: Dalton Highway Reconstruction

May 11, 2016
Dalton Hwy Reconstruction

Dalton Highway after May flooding event.

An unprecedented flooding event in northern Alaska occurred in spring 2015, shutting down the Dalton Highway and causing major supply issues to Alaska’s North Slope.

R&M Consultants, Inc. (R&M) was one of several firm’s working to restore the highway. The firm was originally contracted by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) to provide construction administration services for the $26 million reconstruction of the Dalton Highway from MP 401 to 415.2. The improvements consisted of raising the grade of the road, adding insulation, replacing existing culverts, constructing two fish pipes and surfacing the roadway with crushed aggregates.

The Dalton Highway is a major supply route and provides the only overland access to the North Slope, a major economic driver for Alaska. As such, it is a high priority of the State to keep this road accessible and well maintained to provide necessary supplies to the area and keep oilfield operations running.

Dalton Hwy Reconstruction

Repair work occurring on the Dalton Highway.

After construction began in March, severe flooding occurred due to early melting of the Sagavanirktok River. The melted ice overflowed the Dalton Highway between Mile 390 and Mile 405 in multiple locations, with the overflow level as much as 30” higher than the road in some areas, making it impassible. This caused intermittent road and lane closures before eventually forcing a seven-day road closure.

After initial repair work, the road reopened, but with higher-than-average temperatures, rapidly melting ice built up on the road and caused another flood in late May, this time on a larger scale than before. An 80-mile stretch of the highway was closed for a total of 18 days while repair efforts were underway, finally reopening on June 5.

The flooding and subsequent road closures caused severe supply issues for oil operations in the area, as drivers could not access the oil fields, inflicting significant consequences to the State’s economy. High water stranded truckers, forced evacuation of worker camps, threatened the Deadhorse Airport and briefly shut down a private road to Kuparuk Oil Field.

Dalton Hwy Reconstruction

The reconstructed Dalton Highway.

After the initial flooding in March, Governor Bill Walker issued an emergency declaration to construct immediate repairs and provide additional measures to prevent future impediment to the State’s strategic commerce priorities. A second disaster encompassing the entire North Slope Borough, including the Dalton Highway, was declared after the second flooding event on May 21. Due to the disaster declarations, an additional $18 million was allocated to the project to provide for emergency restoration and project modifications. This added improvement and repair work consisted of fixing runoff damage, installing more culverts, constructing four additional miles of new road from MP 397 to MP 401, raising the original contract road’s elevation from MP 401 to MP 405, and provide additional surfacing materials.

R&M provided contract administration and inspection services during the emergency repairs. This included engineering, materials testing, grade and culvert inspection, and traffic control.

“This project required a tremendous team effort. It was very inspiring to be able to work together with everyone involved to quickly implement a solution and get traffic moving again,” said Greg Browning, R&M’s Project Engineer for the Dalton Highway Reconstruction.

After emergency repairs were completed, the R&M team continued to work on the original construction project throughout the summer, with the addition of additional embankment to raise portions of the road up to seven feet and installation of additional culverts between miles 392–414 to the scope of work to mitigate future flooding issues. The work will continue through 2017.

“R&M has been a key contributor to assisting the Department and our Contractors in managing the impacts to the Dalton Highway from the spring flooding and ice events of 2015, and the permanent construction project from MP 397-414,” said Michael Lund, DOT&PF’s Project Manager.

Many R&M employees contributed and are continuing to contribute to this project. Current R&M team members include: Paul Hetzel, Ryan McCormick, Greg Browning, Mike Wariner, Shawn Hays, Clark Rosencrans, Tim Croghan, Mike Fefelov, Brayden Sutter and Jai Chang.

Project Team
  • Contractor: Brice Inc.
  • Road Designer: Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
  • Construction Administration: R&M Consultants, Inc.