Published: August 8th 2012August 7th 2012
I need to clarify something I said in my blog yesterday. I said that when we were in the RV park near the Portage Glacier that we didn't have water and electricity. I meant that we didn't have hook-ups for these as we do have a water holding tank and a generator in our motor home. It rained Sunday night and it was raining yesterday morning when we left for Whittier to catch our ferry to Valdez. In 1914 The Alaska Railroad Corp. began to consider ways to construct a railroad spur to what is now the town of Whittier. They wanted this route because of its ability to provide a short cut to a deep-water port. This route didn't become a reality until World War II. The main advantage of using Whittier as a rail port was that it was a shorter voyage, reduced exposure of ships to Japanes submarines, reduced the risk of Japanese bombing the port facilities because of the bad weather and avoided the steep railroad grades required to cross the Kenai Mountains. In 1941 the U.S. Army began construction of the railroad spur from Whittier to Portage. This line became Alaska's main supply link for the
war effort. Anton Anderson, an Army engiineer, headed up the construction. The tunnel currently bears his name. On April 23, 1943 workers completed the 2.5 mile tunnel through Maynard Mountain, linkng Whittier to the Alaska Railroad's main line at Portage. Later, Whittier's geographical location made it the ideal gateway for freight ships, cruise lines, fishers and recreational boaters. Whittier has beeen a port on the Alaska Marine Highway but its only link to Alaska's highway was by the Alaska Railroad. The Alaska Railroad began offering a shuttle service between Portage and Whittier in the mid 1960's. This unique form of rail service allowed vehicles to drive on to flat cars to be transported between Whittier and Portage. As the number of people traveling to and from Whittier increassed, so did the demand for more convenient and affordable passage to Whittier. Finally after much study, they decided to build a highway to Maynard Mountain and engineer the 2.5 mile long tunnel to accomodate both a roadway and a railway. In 1998, they began the project. The project consisted of 1.5 miles of road, one 500 ft. long tunnel, two bridges from the Portage Glacier to the Bear Valley staging area and
redoing the 2.5 mile tunnel. As you leave Portage glacierr, you go through the short 500 ft. tunnel. Then you go to the staging area. There they have eight lanes with different vehicle designations. They have traffic lights. The schedules are every hour leaving from one direction. Trains have priority. Cars and light trucks go first, then motorhomes, buses, etc The speed limit is 25 mph. You are supposed to stay 300 ft. behind the vehicle in front of you. It cost us $20 to go through. The tunnel is hewed out of rock. It has an arched roof inside - probably 18 to 20 ft. tall and probably about 14 ft. wide. I was glad when we got through as I don't like enclosed places. I am attaching pictures of the tunnel on the outside, us going in and us coming out. Hopefully, you can see the railroad tracks in the picture. Jim said that he could feel the tracks as he was driving through.