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Ongoing freeze-thaw conditions contributed to ice falling on Seward Highway

Diversion for drivers will stay in place until spring when it’s safe for crews to clean the area
Diversion for drivers will stay in place until spring when it’s safe for crews to clean the area
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 4:46 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Chunks of rocks and ice fell onto the Seward highway at milepost 113.2 Thursday morning. Crews were at work early removing any ice and rocks that had fallen into the main roadway.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said the public should be prepared to see the remaining ice and rocks on the side of the road to stick around until springtime.

Milepost 113.2 is a common area where the department tends to see rocks and ice fall. Seeing conditions like this, they said, is a condition they expect to see every year.

“Specially at milepost 113 where this icefall occurred, it’s because we have that water that flows out of the rock and freezes during the winter,” said Shannon McCarthy, statewide communication director for the department.

McCarthy said the fast freezing and thawing cycle causes the ice to melt and fall on the road. To help people avoid potential ice and rockfall, the department has placed division cones on lanes for traffic.

Massive chunks of ice that fell onto the Seward Highway near mile 113 Thursday were not enough to block traffic, but still kept drivers on their toes.

One driver traveling on Seward Highway around 7 p.m. on Wednesday said he remembered seeing a large gap between the rock and ice.

“I was certainly very close to the pile-ons on the left side. I thought, boy if that comes down now I’m going to be in trouble,” Trace Gentis said.

A department spokesperson said via email that due to ongoing weather conditions, the department will not be doing any additional clean-up of the rocks and the ice that are currently on the side of the road. The diversion that was put in place will stay there until spring when it becomes safe for crews to clean the area up, though the department will continue to work to keep driving lanes open.

“That area — because we don’t want to put crews directly underneath the cliff when ice is shredding — that area the ice will stay in place until all of it has gone and then they’ll clean up in that area. But that’s of course not on the travel ways,” McCarthy said.

The department said they are expecting additional ice and rocks to fall between now and springtime. The Seward Highway is safe and open for travel. However, the department recommends that people traveling on the highway stay alert for any fallen rock or ice that may have fallen into the main roadway. They also advise the public to not stop on the road.

Individuals can stay updated on the Seward Highway condition by visiting the department’s Twitter or Facebook, and Alaska 511.

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