A road that was proposed for years became a military necessity due to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is a road that has been dubbed “a significant feat of time critical engineering and construction” by The American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1995 it was awarded the Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Status” and is a 20th century engineering achievement.
Viewed with by congress as an urgent matte, it was February 11, 1942 that a Special Committee and President Roosevelt authorized the construction of a joint United States/Canadian effort to build the road north. During it’s construction the Japanese also invaded Attu and Kiska Islands in the Pacific adding to the urgency to protect this state of America and the Pacific shipping lanes.
Even though it was only a dirt/gravel path through the wilderness during the war this historic road was needed as a vital military route to provide supplies, troops and equipment safely to Alaska. An engineering feat to get this 1,390 mile (2,237 km) road completed in such a short amount of time, not just because of it’s length but also for the terrain and environmental restrictions placed by the regions it traversed; then finally that Canada was deeded the access road after the war to gain access into it’s remote northwestern region that was difficult to access at the time.
Construction of the AL/CAN (Alaska-Canadian Highway) officially began on March 9, 1942 with a mobilization of men from the United States. Work along the route was to be provided by American troops and individuals. The Canadian Government provided the right of way through Canada, waived import duties, sales tax, income tax, immigration and provided construction materials along the route. After the war the portion of the highway in Canada was to be turned over to the Canadian Government. America would provide all the manpower and equipment to build this road through the wilderness.
During construction there were numerous rivers to cross. At the time of original construction there were a total of 133 bridges along its route, 64 were more than 100 feet (30.5 m) in length. Pontoon bridges were first constructed to continue work on the road while a timber truss or timber trestle bridge was being constructed. These timber bridges were no match for the winters and the water flows of these untamed waters, so 99 of the 133 bridges were replaced with steel truss bridges, steel I-beam bridges, plate girder bridges, suspension bridges, and reinforced concrete bridges.
More than 10,000 American troops poured into Canada to locate, survey and construct this path north. No formal roads existed north of Dawson Creek, B.C. so the army was instructed to push north from that railhead.
Following winter roads, summer pack trails and winter trap lines a route was surveyed by using local information about the makeup of the topography. With skimpy rations and harsh conditions these individuals completed the road on October 25, 1942 just 8 months and 12 days after the start of construction. Finally opened to the public in 1948 it is one of the iconic adventure road trips for many people.