I’m sure you all heard about the massive earthquake that went through Anchorage, Alaska last week that was strong enough to destroy the smooth asphalt roads, turning them into rubble in just a matter of minutes. While that in itself is incredibly interesting, it only took road crews a few days to make those roads driveable again. And I don’t mean that they were able to repave a few parts of an Interstate, but rather, they were able to rebuild and make roads whole again in just a matter of days. This is an incredible feat to start with, given that it’s winter in this part of the world right now.
But also, let’s marvel in this accomplishment, given how long it can take your local government to repair potholes or even to pave a stretch of road. Often, we see traffic congested and backed up for miles as road crews get the work done. So how were they able to accomplish this in just a few short days? The first answer is money, but there is a bit more to it than that.
Anchorage has a population of nearly 300,000 people spread across more than 1,900 square miles — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. That space is threaded by roads, asphalt lifelines of the population. After last week’s earthquake, crews got to work to bring this much-needed transportation network back online. The rapid response to damage shows how investing time and money into preparations for these kinds of large, infrastructure projects can pay off in the long run. Even when there’s no way to tell when or where a disaster might strike.
According to Shannon McCarthy, a spokesperson with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Alaska has more earthquakes than any other state in the United States. As a result, Alaska takes its earthquake preparations very seriously. The largest earthquake ever recorded in the country shook Anchorage to its core in 1964, causing a deadly tsunami and leaving in its wake damaged buildings, buckled roads, and a legacy that inspired years of earthquake preparation and policies. Strong building codes put in place post-1964 helped make the area more secure than other earthquake-prone areas, like Seattle.
Over the past six months, a less ground-shaking development also helped prepare the teams on the ground for that moment. In March, a truck slammed into a bridge on the only major road connecting Anchorage to one of its suburbs, shutting down the throughway for days. In the months after the collision, the Department of Transportation went through and updated its recovery plans in the event of another damaging incident.
I wish I was able to sit here and write that there was something incredible that gave Alaska the ability to get their road network back up and running quickly. But it was just being prepared, doing drills and having good policies in place. If you think about it, that is something incredible. Many governments throughout North America aren’t that well prepared, so perhaps I’m downplaying this a little bit.
The other thing that should be noted is that these are just temporary fixes. The roads will really have to be repaired in the spring when the conditions are more amenable to it. But I think that the way Anchorage has handled this disaster is both inspiring and incredible. Many governments react to situations, but Alaska was able to pull this one off with just a bit of old-fashioned preparation.