Collapsed Alaska highway ramp reopens days after quake

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Sunday, December 9, 2018
Road that collapsed during Alaska quake already fixed
People are shocked at how quick crews were able to fix a road that collapsed during the quake in Alaska.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A collapsed off-ramp in Alaska's largest city that became an iconic image of the destructive force of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake was rebuilt and reopened four days after its destruction.

The ramp, which leads to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, reopened between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Shannon McCarthy, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The earthquake struck at 8:29 a.m. Friday and was followed by a magnitude 5.7 quake. Aftershocks of 4.0 or larger were regular occurrences afterward.

RELATED: Alaska governor issues disaster declaration after back-to-back earthquakes

When rocking from the first quake stopped, McCarthy said, highway officials recognized they had multiple breaks in "essential travel." They identified eight sites of highest priority.

One was the off-ramp that carried traffic from south Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula to the state's largest airport. A small station wagon on the ramp when it collapsed dropped down at least 6 feet but came to rest upright on a flat piece of roadway surrounded by jumbled sections of earth. No one inside was injured.

President Donald Trump and former Gov. Bill Walker declared emergencies, allowing highway officials to order reconstruction immediately.

"We basically called the contracting community, and we split up the sites between multiple contractors and our construction staff," McCarthy said.

Anchorage asphalt plants had been shut down for the season in late October. It can take more than a week to get them up and running, McCarthy said, depending on the moisture content in the rock incorporated into the mix.

"As soon as the quake happened, as soon as the contractors felt their asphalt plants were safe, they ran over and started up their asphalt plants," she said.

Earthwork at the off-ramp began before the sun set Friday. By the time heavy equipment had filled in and packed down the ramp, asphalt was ready to be laid down, a feat not often attempted in December.

"That's almost unheard of," McCarthy said. Crews applied paint while the asphalt was warm.

Temperatures in mid-November had dropped to single digits. But over the weekend, temperatures stayed near or above freezing

"Still not great, but a little bit warmer," McCarthy said.

Work at other sites is progressing. The Glenn Highway, the only highway leading north from Anchorage, fully reopened Wednesday morning. Two sinkholes created crescent-shape craters near Mirror Lake and got bigger with every 4.0 aftershock, McCarthy said. It took until Wednesday to repair all six lanes.

The department will monitor that site, where the speed limit is 65 mph, for dips as winter progresses. Permanent repairs will be made in spring, she said.