Stretch of Alaska’s McCarthy Road to get summer improvement

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 14-mile stretch of a rugged gravel road between the small communities of Chitina and McCarthy will be paved with emulsified asphalt and crushed rock in a summer project of the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The surface — to cover mileposts 3 to 17 — is unlike full asphalt paving. But it will be the first time any of the 60-mile road through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve gets such a firm surface, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The new surface will help decrease future maintenance costs and reduce dust kicked up by vehicles, transportation department spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said.

The work is expected to start in early July. The $1.6 million cost comes from federal funding left over from 2012 road repair work.

In past years, heavy equipment has been used to smooth the road each year, and workers also spread material to cut down on dust, Bailey said.

“That gets expensive really quick,” she said.

McCarthy Lodge owner Neil Darish said McCarthy residents expressed apprehension about the project at a recent DOT meeting in the community, located about 230 miles east of Anchorage.

Many people worry that paving the road could ruin the rustic charm of the area, according to Darish. He said there also is concern about the improvement bringing a less adventurous crowd of visitors to McCarthy and Kennecott, a nearby mining ghost town.

“Most of the people (here) don’t want to lose that sense of place that the gravel road is a part of,” he said. “Only certain kinds of people are going to come out to McCarthy and Kennecott. It’s a little harder.”

Darish said he is not opposed to the work. But the fear is that the whole community could change, at least at a rate faster than McCarthy can handle, he said.

Bailey said public comments received in writing have been more mixed. She said there are less vocal people than those at the meeting who support the project.

Depending on weather, the project should be completed by the end of July. During the work, travelers can expect delays and flaggers.

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