Alaska Road Commission


Crossing Thompson Pass on the Valdez-Fairbanks Road

In the early part of the twentieth century Alaska was criss-crossed with trails such as the Seward-Iditarod-Nome Mail Trail, which later became simply the Iditarod Trail, in fact a broad and wide-reaching network of trails which provide access to many towns and villages in southwestern Alaska. As traffic increased on these trails a network of roadhouses were built by enterprising souls, offering a place to rest and recuperate from the harsh rigors of the trail.

On the eastern side of the territory the Trans-Alaska Military Trail and Wagon Road became the Valdez-Eagle Trail, which spawned the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail which then became the Richardson Highway, the first actual road of any length in Alaska. In 1905 the U.S. Congress approved legislation establishing a commission to oversee construction of this and other roads, and the Board of Road Commissioners for Alaska, generally referred to as the Alaska Road Commission, or ARC, became part of the War Department, by order of the Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. The Board was comprised of three members: The chairman or president of the board, in charge of all operations, an engineer officer responsible for the fieldwork, and a secretary officer who ran the office and paid for work done.

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Within two years the Commission had upgraded 200 miles of existing trails, built 40 miles of road, flagged 247 miles of winter trails on the Seward Peninsula, and cleared 285 miles of new trail. By 1922 these numbers had grown to 1,101 miles of wagon road including 600 miles of gravel surfaced roads, 756 miles of winter sled roads, 3,721 miles of permanent trail and 712 miles of temporary flagged trail. The Commission did not favor use of these trails by trucks or automobiles, declaring in 1914 that it made “no pretense of having built roads adapted for automobile travel….”

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Alaska Road Commission truck number 23 stuck in mud on the road between Sourdough and Gulkana, July 1919. [Bill Frame Photograph Collection, 1912-1940. ASL-PCA-228]

In 1932 the Alaska Road Commission was transferred to the Department of the Interior, which promptly imposed registration and license fee requirements on all vehicles in Alaska. In 1956 it was absorbed by the Bureau of Public Roads, then a division of the Commerce Department, which later evolved into the Federal Highway Administration. When Alaska gained statehood in 1959 the State of Alaska assumed road building and maintenance responsibility for 3,100 miles of roads, and in 1960 what had once been the Alaska Road Commission morphed a final time into the Alaska State Highway Department. One of its first projects was construction of a new Fairbanks to Anchorage road, the George Parks Highway. ~•~

Alaskan Roadhouses

Excerpted from Alaskan Roadhouses, Finding Shelter, Meals, and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, by Helen Hegener (Northern Light Media, 2015)


About Helen Hegener

Author and publisher, Northern Light Media and Alaskan History Magazine.
This entry was posted in Alaska History, Books, Roadhouses and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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