Flash flooding closes stretch of Richardson Highway

high levels of brown water under a bridge
High water levels at Ruby Creek, where flash flooding occurred. (Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities staff)

A stretch of the Richardson Highway south of Delta Junction remains closed Wednesday after heavy rain over the eastern Alaska Range triggered mudslides and flash-flooding.

The state Department of Transportation’s 511 site lists the highway as closed between Mile 218 and 234. It says the closure will likely last through the weekend.

The closure follows warnings from the National Weather Service that runoff from snow melt in higher elevations was filling rivers in the eastern Interior. When a storm dumped up to 5 inches of rain around Black Rapids on Monday, the creeks that channel all that runoff spilled over their banks, blowing out the Bear Creek bridge along the Richardson Highway and damaging a half-dozen other bridges.

“There’s a lot of damage, and we’re still assessing it,” said Danielle Tessen, transportation department spokeswoman.

A video posted online by the department shows water gushing under bridges and a partial collapse of the roadway.

Tessen said the department has sent about 20 workers to assess damage and begin repairs. But with more rain forecast over the next several days, she said that stretch of the Richardson will remain closed.

The state is detouring traffic around the closure onto the Alaska Highway and the Tok Cutoff.

“It’s going to add an hour and a half to your drive, but at least you can get from Point A to Point B,” Tessen said.

Alaska Trucking Association Executive Director Joe Michel said that means it’s likely products being brought up the highway may be arriving late through the weekend.

“There is quite a bit of fuel that comes out of Valdez that is heading up the Richardson up to Fairbanks,” he said.

a bulldozer pushes rocks on a roadway
Crews work on Richardson Highway damage caused by flash flooding near Bear Creek on Monday, July 12, 2022. (Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities staff)

The washout at Bear Creek also damaged a fiber-optic cable that runs along the Richardson, throttling internet and cellphone service for customers throughout the eastern Interior.

Alaska Communications said in a statement that the damage and its ripple effects have significantly reduced the company’s capabilities. The statement says the problem will slow internet service for all customers of telecoms that used the now-damaged cable. And it says it doesn’t have an estimate on when full service will be restored.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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