Snow buildup on Anchorage roads leaves drivers with fewer lanes and longer commutes

Cars sit in traffic at night.
Cars on Northern Lights Boulevard sit at a standstill during rush hour on Wednesday. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage resident Megan Premer said she was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Midtown Tuesday evening. 

“I mean I stayed on Lake Otis for well over 30 minutes, because it was one lane,” she said “And then people were all getting out of work, trying to get in. I must have stayed at Tudor through the light three or four times.”

Premer isn’t alone. Anchorage residents are complaining of higher-than-normal traffic in the city, with berms of snow cutting off lanes. In many parts of town four-lane roads have become two, turn lanes have disappeared and pieces of neighborhood roads have been squeezed to single lanes. And then there’s the sidewalks, many that are still swamped in feet of snow.

It’s an issue that’s impacting emergency vehicles, too, said Assistant Anchorage Fire Chief Alex Boyd.

“Obviously, road conditions are difficult for everybody, fire department vehicles included,” he said. “We just hope that the folks out on the streets continue to do good work and get the roads back out to normal width as soon as possible.”

Road crews say they’re still working to fully carve out the streets and haul snow away, after the city was hit with a trio of major storms this month. Some of Anchorage’s roads are maintained by the state of Alaska, and others by the city.

City officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday about snow removal efforts. 

DOT spokesman Justin Shelby said plow teams have removed snow from many of the state’s major roads. 

“They’ve completed Seward Highway from 36th to 15th. Also 5th Avenue downtown, and Karluk to Airport Heights,” Shelby said. “And they’re going to get started on Minnesota and Fireweed next.”

He said the biggest challenge is the amount of snow — and how fast it came. Normally, he said, plow teams would prioritize clearing out snow during a storm and then have a team go through after with snow blowers and haul trucks to open the roads back up fully.

“What’s unique about this one is we had three heavy snowfalls back-to-back,” he said. “So whereas we would’ve started snow haul operations after the first snow, we had to wait until the third storm had finished.”

cars stopped on a dark and snowy street
Snow berms continue to block many bus stops. (Courtesy of Marie Francis)

It’s not just drivers who are concerned about snow piling up in roads and reducing space. Marie Francis said she felt unsafe waiting for the city bus this week. 

A big snow berm blocked the sidewalk — and her bus stop — so she had to wait in the road, as cars went by at 45 miles per hour

“It’s that part of C Street where it opens up and the cars start gaining speed through there,” Francis said. “But of course, with the ice, they’re skidding when they try to break. So that’s terrifying.”

While Francis said she’s able to sometimes hurdle over the snow berms to make way for cars, she worries about bus passengers who aren’t as mobile. 

“I’m able-bodied, but I’m really nervous for the folks that have to use the bus that are elderly or handicapped or minors,” Francis said. “Because there’s really tall berms and there’s no clearance between the road and the berm, and they’re having to clamber over.”

C Street by Francis’s bus stop is a state road, but the bus stops are handled by the municipality, according to Shelby. Lake Otis Parkway, where Premer got stuck on, is one of the city-maintained roads. 

Premer said she understands the difficulty of clearing out roads after several heavy snowfalls, but she thinks officials could’ve been better prepared. 

“I read that they were trying to get the roads clear, but how there’s no place to take the snow,” Premer said. “It seems like a public policy or city policy sort of thing. Granted we don’t get that much, that often, but like people have said, we are in Alaska.”

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Thursday, December 22, 2022
Next articleWith thousands waiting, state says food stamp backlog won’t improve any time soon