The Colville River Road, an 18-mile route (map below) from the existing Spine road to the Colville River crossing site, was selected from among several alternatives in November 2003. The route presents security and management challenges, but offers lower capital/operating costs to the state and the least environmental impact to the region than the other alternatives.
The Colville River Road concept arose during the development of the Northwest Alaska Transportation Plan, initially to address a dual need:
- Diminishing access to oil development prospects in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) due to warming trend that makes winter ice road construction increasingly less economical (shrinking ice road season from 204 days to 103 days in last 30 years), and
- Nuiqsut residents' desire for all-season access to Dalton Highway and Deadhorse Airport.
The concept thus developed around the idea of a road from the Dalton Highway to Nuiqsut, requiring a bridge spanning the Colville River. Several alternative routes were explored, and the 102-mile foothills route (below), providing access to several currently inaccessible oil and gas leases, was presented in fall 2003 as the preferred route.
The Spine Road extension alternative was selected in November 2003 due to its significantly lower cost ($150-200 million as compared with the foothills route ($300-400 million).
This project has a high potential to stimulate oil development in NPR-A and provide benefits to the Alaskan workers, the oil industry, the State, and the Country (CH2M HILL economic analysis 2003).
DOT&PF will conduct all necessary material site exploration, hydrological surveys and environmental analyses during the winter, spring and summer of 2004. Final design is expected to be complete by late 2005. Road construction, including the Kachemach River Bridge, would begin in January 2006. Colville River Bridge construction would begin in late 2006. Construction is expected to be complete by 2009.
A project description report was released in January 2004. In late January 2005, however, the State of Alaska shut down its Colville River Road project.