Governor Mike Dunleavy announced on Tuesday that he had instructed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) to reopen the Birch Lake Maintenance Station. Closed in 2016 amid budget cuts, the closure meant more lane miles for the Delta Station to maintain.
The area previously maintained by the station on the Richardson Highway – Mile 240-309, was split between the Delta and Fairbanks Stations. As a result, crews were slower to get to the Richardson Highway in Salcha – particularly the area handled by the Fairbanks Station.
Two factors resulted in the decreased maintenance. One was the increased lane miles covered by both stations, the other was the priority level for the Richardson Highway. Drivers may have noticed snow removal was slow after a storm between the Birch Lake Station and Eielson Air Force Base.
North of Eielson, the Richardson Highway has a priority one ranking, making it the highest priority for the Fairbanks Station, along with other major roads in the Fairbanks area. South of Eielson AFB, the Richardson Highway has a priority two ranking – resulting in crews turning around at Eielson to continue working on priority one roads before addressing priority two roads.
The Delta Station, which was covering the area from the Birch Lake Station south, has no priority one roads, as a result, all of the Richardson Highway maintained by the Delta Station received the same priority – essentially that of a priority one road. During heaving snows in Fairbanks, Delta crews have been sent further north to clean the Richardson Highway while Fairbanks crews concentrated on priority one roads.
The governor also announced Tuesday that the Chitina Station, located on the Edgerton Highway, would also reopen. He announced in December that the Silvertip Station located just off the Seward Highway near Hope would reopen this year.
The Birch Lake Station is expected to be reopened by the end of the month said a DOT spokesperson.