JUNEAU, Alaska, Sept. 16 - Alaskans were quick to reply today to Canadian officials reported to have said that the Canadian government was not responsible for the closing of an American built highway in the British Yukon last month.
Clsing of the road was enforced by both the Canadian army, which now has the responsibility of maintaining it, and Canadian customs agents at the border, the Alaskans said. They added that it was inconceivable that such action could have been taken without the knowledge of top Canadian officials.
Since publication by THE TRIBUNE of a story telling of the denial of the road use to American traffic, the highway has been reopened to American buses, with Canada retaining control over movement of the vehicles. Bus operators must renew every two weeks their permit to use it. The Canadian army has explained that it, not the experienced bus operators, will be the judge as to whether the road is passable.
Costs U.S. $12,000,000
The road is the 139 mile Haines cutoff linking the Alaskan coastal town of Haines to the Alcan highway at a point in the Yukon 106 miles west of Whitehorse. It cost American taxpayers $12,000,000 and was built during the war by the United States army as an added supply line for the Yukon territory and Alaska.
Highway engineers said the road is excellently located to serve both territories in peace. It opens a new Alaska port of entry for passenegers and frate, they added, while shortening by several days the frate haul to Valdez or Seward.
A survey by the chamber of commerce in Fairbanks indicated that there would be a saving to consumers of 15 per cent on prices of commodities shipped to Haines and trucked the rest of the way to interior Alaska. This would represent the difference in transportation costs on goods shipped to Seward and carried to the interior on the Alaska railroad, famed for its high frate rates.
Competition for Railway Seen
Donald MacDonald, renowned in Alaska as the engineer who first saw the feasibility of an overland highway between the territory and the United States, noted that the opening of the Haines road would offer the first competition in 50 years to the White Pass & Yukon railroad.
Owned by London interests, the railroad is 110-mile, narrow gauge line connecting the port of Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse in the Yukon. It is the only link between the sea and the interior of western Canada.
High Costs Laid to Rates
"The Canadians evidently do not want to disturb the status quo," MacDonald asserted. "The White Pass railroad has a monopoly that is threatened by the new Haines road. Most of us remember that during the war the United States offered to build a highway from Skagway to Whitehorse. After that, the railroad turned itself over for a price to the United States army for war time operation. It didn't want that highway built for post-war competition.
The frate rates charged by this line, said the Alaska engineer, are responsible for the high cost of building materials, petroleum products, and other commodities in the interior of western Canada.
He cited as an example the rising cost of gasoline as it is shipped farther from the seaports. Motor fuel cost about 13 cents delivered at Skagway, he said, but at Whitehorse, after the trip by rail it costs consumers 46 cents, including a 5 cent tax.
The distance from Haines to Whitehorse by truck would be 238 miles. MacDonald said, however, that trucks supplied with cheap gasoline at the sea could offer frate rates much lower than those charged by the railroad for less than half the distance.
Statements by the Canadian officials that they had not ordered the Haines road closed to Americans were published after the thorofare was reopened on a limited basis by the army.
Tell of Ban on Frate
The Canadian army chieftains had previously forced postponement of the first test trip by an American bus for several weeks. After a pioneer run was made successfully on Aug. 17, the Canadians said each bus would be required to get a permit for each trip. American bus line officials said this maneuver effectively blocked use of the road for several more weeks since it made operations on a regular schedule virtually impossible.
In addition to hampering the movement of passengers, Canadian customs agents have blocked shipment of frate over the road, records show. The following ruling was issued at the border north of Haines on Aug. 20:
"All commercial frating between Haines and Fairbanks is now prohibited on the section of the Haines cut-off which traverses Canada."
This decree came three days after the first Alaska bus, operated by the O'Harra Bus Lines, had completed a successful trial run over the road from Fairbanks to Haines. The O'Harra lines, owned by Ken O'Harra of Anchorage, Alaska, a former GI, have been among the first to utilize warbuilt highways for peacetime commercial use. They serve virtually all Alaskan population centers that have road connections.
Assail Canadian Explanation
Alaskans snickered at the Canadian explanation that there is supposed to be a long standing regulation against shipment of bonded frate by truck across Canada. The wording of the ruling, ". . . s now prohibited . . ." does not indicate that that regulation is of very ancient vintage, they asserted.
"There's one thing for sure," said Walter Sharpe, Alaska's commissioner of labour. "The regulation is no older as far as Alaska is concerned than the highways the United States built and gave to Canada.
"It looks as if the Canadian government is a bit confused over what its representatives are doing in the field. Meanwhile, Alaska working people will continue to pay exorbitant prices for necessities because a neighboring government refuses to permit them to benefit from improved transportation facilities developed during the war."