Transportation in Alaska
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Alaska is arguably[editorializing] the least-connected state in terms of road transportation. The state's road system covers a relatively small area of the state, linking the central population centers and the Alaska Highway, the principal route out of the state through Canada. The state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road, which has spurred several debates over the decades about moving the capital to a city on the road system. One unique feature of the road system is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which links the Seward Highway south of Anchorage with the relatively isolated community of Whittier. The tunnel held the title of the longest road tunnel in North America (at nearly 2.5 miles [4 km]) until completion of the 3.5 mile (5.6 km) Interstate 93 tunnel as part of the "Big Dig" project in Boston, Massachusetts. The tunnel retains the title of the longest combination road and rail tunnel in North America.
Bridges and tunnels
- Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
- Million Dollar Bridge
- Knik Arm Crossing (proposed)
- Gravina Island Bridge (proposed)
- Bering Strait bridge (proposed)
Rail and bus travel
The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks to North Pole, with spurs to Whittier and Palmer (locally known as "The Railbelt"). It carries both freight and passengers throughout its system, but only runs daily passenger service in the summer to accommodate tourists and a more limited weekly passenger service in the winter primarily for residents. The railroad plays a vital part in moving Alaska's natural resources, such as coal and gravel, to ports in Anchorage, Whittier and Seward. The Alaska Railroad is one of the few remaining railroads in North America to use cabooses in regular service and offers one of the last flag stop routes in the country. A stretch of about 60 miles (97 km) of track along an area inaccessible by road serves as the only transportation to cabins in the area. Although rail ferry service links Alaska with Washington state (Seattle) and British Columbia, there are plans to link Alaska to the rest of the North American rail network via Yukon Territory and British Columbia. An additional isolated system is the White Pass and Yukon Route established in 1898.
Nearly all larger cities and boroughs across the state operate local bus systems, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Kenai, Ketchikan and Bethel. While Greyhound does not operate in Alaska, there are numerous private bus companies in the state that offer regional bus service, with Anchorage and Fairbanks as the primary hub cities.
Many cities and villages in the state are accessible only by sea or air. Alaska has a well-developed ferry system, known as the Alaska Marine Highway, which serves the cities of Southeast and the Alaska Peninsula. The system also operates a ferry service from Bellingham, Washington and Prince Rupert, British Columbia in Canada up the Inside Passage to Skagway. In the Prince of Wales Island region of Southeast, the Inter-Island Ferry Authority also serves as an important marine link for many communities, and works in concert with the Alaska Marine Highway. Cruise ships are an increasingly popular way for tourists to see Alaska.
Cities not served by road or sea can only be reached by air, accounting for Alaska's extremely well developed bush air services—an Alaskan novelty. Anchorage itself, and to a lesser extent Fairbanks, are serviced by many major airlines. Air travel is the cheapest and most efficient form of transportation in and out of the state. Anchorage recently completed extensive remodeling and construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to help accommodate the upsurge in tourism (in 2000-2001, the latest year for which data are available, 2.4 million total arrivals to Alaska were counted, 1.7 million via air travel; 1.4 million were visitors).
However, regular flights to most villages and towns within the state are commercially challenging to provide. Alaska Airlines is the only major airline offering in-state travel with jet service (sometimes in combination cargo and passenger Boeing 737-400's) from Anchorage and Fairbanks to regional hubs like Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Kodiak, and other larger communities as well as to major Southeast and Alaska Peninsula communities. The bulk of remaining commercial flight offerings come from small regional commuter airlines like: Ravn Alaska, Era Aviation, PenAir, and Frontier Flying Service. The smallest towns and villages must rely on scheduled or chartered bush flying services using general aviation aircraft such as the Cessna Caravan, the most popular aircraft in use in the state. Much of this service can be attributed to the Alaska bypass mail program which subsidizes bulk mail delivery to Alaskan rural communities. The program requires 70% of that subsidy to go to carriers who offer passenger service to the communities. But perhaps the most quintessentially Alaskan plane is the bush seaplane. The world's busiest seaplane base is Lake Hood, located next to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where flights bound for remote villages without an airstrip carry passengers, cargo, and an abundance of items from stores and warehouse clubs. Alaska has the highest number of pilots per capita of any U.S. state: out of the estimated 663,661 residents, 8,550 are pilots, or about one in every 78.
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
- Fairbanks International Airport
- Juneau International Airport
- Ketchikan International Airport
Another Alaskan transportation method is the dogsled. In modern times, dog mushing is more of a sport than a true means of transportation. Various races are held around the state, but the best known is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a 1,150-mile (1850 km) trail from Anchorage to Nome. The race commemorates the famous 1925 serum run to Nome in which mushers and dogs like Balto took much-needed medicine to the diphtheria-stricken community of Nome when all other means of transportation had failed. Mushers from all over the world come to Anchorage each March to compete for cash prizes and prestige.
In areas not served by road or rail, primary summer transportation is by all-terrain vehicle and primary winter transportation is by snowmobile, or "snow machine," as it is commonly referred to in Alaska.
It should also be noted that Alaska has the highest percentage of people walking as their method of commute to work.
- State of Alaska Office of Economic Development. Alaska Visitor Arrivals and Profile-Summer 2001. November, 2002; retrieved September 11, 2006.
- State of Alaska Office of Economic Development. Alaska Visitor Arrivals and Profile-Fall/Winter 2001. November, 2002; retrieved September 11, 2006.
- Federal Aviation Administration. 2005 U.S. Civil Airman Statistics
- U.S. Census Bureau  Retrieved January 6, 2012