Rural Road Construction - Dalton Highway near Fairbanks, Alaska

Alaska’s Oil Industry Restart Brings Attention to One of “America’s Loneliest Roads” and Rural Road Construction

In County Roads, Gravel Roads, Roads, Unpaved Roads by Bob Vitale

The Biden Administration’s approval of the Willow project will exponentially expand Alaska’s oil and mining industry. Symbolizing a brighter future for its economy, this oil revival has also left Alaska with two simple facts: the Willow project has received the green light and that means heavier traffic for one of “America’s loneliest roads,” the Dalton Highway, bringing the topic of rural road construction to the forefront. 

Truckers are benefitting from Willow

One of the most remote roads in the United States, the Dalton Highway, stretching across 414 miles, is the only passage to Willow’s North Slope oil fields — and traversing this gravel road is no small feat.  

From a mixture of tricky conditions and demanding needs, Alaskan trucking companies are requesting experienced drivers to begin moving equipment in preparation for drilling. As compensation for the complex rural road construction, Tyler Durden reports these veteran drivers could “earn $95,000 to $120,000, in addition to healthcare, retirement and paid time off benefits” for driving through this difficult track. These employment upgrades represent a 15% increase to employment packages over two years ago. 

What kind of risk could reap these rewards?

The Dalton Highway’s isolation stations

The Dalton Highway’s extreme weather conditions and remote location bring unique obstacles for the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) when it comes to rural road construction, operations and maintenance efforts. They continuously face challenges with Freeze/Thaw damage, thawing permafrost, saturated road materials, and sourcing quality road building aggregate. Throughout the several hundred miles of open road, the Dalton Highway is maintained using seven camps run by the Alaskan Department of Transportation. These stations report on the conditions within their segmented 60–70 mile stretches of rural road construction. 

If a vehicle breaks down, these limited resources combined with the absence of internet or cell reception could leave travelers stranded for hours, or maybe even days. For this reason, Alaskan trucking companies have requested experienced drivers be able to fix their own vehicles should they experience a breakdown.

Driving on thick ice

The other challenge that comes with traversing the Dalton Highway is the weather conditions. The rural road construction itself is a patchwork of pavement and mostly gravel material. In most places, gravel roads are seen as less expensive than paved. However, the harsh climate in remote places like Alaska, where gravel is king, makes even the most thorough maintenance an expensive endeavor.   

Ironically, the best time to travel on the gravel road is in the winter. While this may seem surprising, negative temperatures give the ice-packed gravel surface and tundra highway its best traction. Fall and spring make the road slushy, while in summer the road is dusty or slick with calcium that is used to make it less dusty.  

If there’s anything we know from commonplace dust control practices like brines or watering, it’s that these solutions are not only ineffective long-term, but they can cause more issues. For a more detailed discussion, read “Another Competitor Bites the Dust” about the ineffectiveness of brine for dust control on rural road construction.

Calcium Chloride – a treatment with unintended side effects 

Calcium chloride adds another factor to the Dalton Highway — maintenance costs. Feeling the burden of budget cuts, The Alaskan Department of Transportation currently spends around $16.5 million each year to make the Dalton Highway as safe and operational as possible. Alaska’s funding parameters adds another layer with federal funds allocated to infrastructure preservation and state funding designated to repairs.

So not only is the rural road construction of the Dalton Highway stationed in isolation, with extreme conditions in all seasons, but keeping it safe and reliable comes at an astronomical cost.

Don’t play with fire… or ice — get Midwest’s EK35®

But today there is a product technology that is offering a promising solution for improvement in rural road construction and road stabilization for cold climate regions! It is Midwest’s EK35, an innovative technology designed for optimum performance in cold regions. 

Its synthetic fluid-based chemistry does not freeze, is not soluble in water, and remains constantly active – making the stabilized road surface easily and quickly reworkable as needed. From these attributes, EK35’s effectiveness is not impaired by frigid temperatures in harsh environments and its installed performance does not significantly change after rural road construction’s exposure to freeze-thaw action. Therefore, EK35 can be adopted in remote cold regions where exposure to freeze-thaw cycles and high moisture conditions is inevitable. EK35’s performance has been extensively tested by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology with recent published studies showing its superior cold region performance, which is something other studies have documented as well.

EK35 is the key to Midwest’s Fines Preservation Program, where it is applied to the unpaved rural road construction topically or where EK35 is incorporated into the upper 4-6” of the gravel road surface. With either method, EK35 equally distributes into the road surface, permanently binding to the individual aggregate particles and forming a stabilized, dust free road.   

When you treat your rural road construction with EK35, you don’t just protect it from damage, but heighten its overall performance and safety. With its stabilization power, EK35 prevents aggregate segregation, surface erosion and loss of material. While stabilizing, it simultaneously acts as a long-lasting form of dust control, keeping harmful dust particles stuck to the surface rather than floating in the air. EK35 is also water repellant, and since water is the enemy, this minimizes water’s damaging effects to your rural road construction. EK35 is insoluble, so it will not wash away with heavy weather.   

Use one rural road construction solution to solve all your problems

While other traditional solutions like calcium chloride can temporarily solve one problem, it can cause others. With EK35’s innovative surface stabilization technology, you solve all your problems, with no added consequences. Your stabilized road will experience heightened performance, increased durability, added strength, and overall longevity fueled by the scientific power of EK35.

Whether it’s your local gravel road, or the infamous Dalton Highway, rural road construction doesn’t have to be complicated and expensive. Let Midwest give you a comprehensive solution with EK35. For more information, contact us today. 

Bob is founder and CEO of Midwest Industrial Supply.