APPOINTMENT by the Dominion government of a five-man commission to study the proposed U.S.-Alaska highway has drawn attention to the fact that the shortest route leads across the prairies within 200 miles of Winnipeg. Those wishing to detour through this city would have to drive only 75 miles extra.
Support for the prairie route has been gaining ground in recent weeks, Before that, most of the publicity for the highway proposal came from British Columbia, where Premier Pattullo has been working for a highway connection between British Columbia and the Yukon. Now, however, Alberta spokesmen have given a new turn to the discussion by arguing the superior advantages of a route east of the Rocky Mountains.
The need of swift communications between the United States and Alaska in the event of war is the basis of many arguments for construction of the highway. Other advantages of the route are chiefly by-products, which could not by themselves justify the expenditure. So much is agreed upon in most of the comment published from New York to Vancouver.
From the defense standpoint, the important thing is to have the shortest possible route between Alaska and the industrial regions of the United States - from which war materials would have to be shipped - it has been pointed out by F. S. Wright, of Edmonton, publisher of the Nor'-West Miner.
The bulk of United States heavy industry lies to the east of Chicago. Therefore the mileage between Chicago and Alaska is the first test by which the possible routes must be judged, Mr. Wright argues.
From Chicago to Alaska, four main routes have been suggested from various sources. Shown on the accompanying map, they are:
By the coast, through Seattle, British Columbia and the Yukon:
1. From Prince George via Finlay Forks and Lower Post.
2. From Prince George via Hazelton and Whitehorse.
Across the prairies, through Alberta:
3. From Edmonton via the Peace River - or via Jasper and Prince George - to Finlay Forks, Lower Post and the Yukon.
4. From Edmonton via Hay River and the Mackenzie Valley.
Route No. 2 via Hazelton, B.C., and Whitehorse, Yukon, is likely - from the trend of published comment - to be discarded, owing to its narrow valleys and high altitudes. For 100 miles it would run above 4,000 feet and at one point is reported to touch 6,000 feet. British Columbia opinion now is supporting the inland route via Finlay Forks.
As between the three remaining routes, as the map shows, the project falls into two parts - the southern from to Finlay Forks; the northern, from Edmonton to Fairbanks.
On the southern part, the prairie route to Finlay Forks, B.C., via Edmonton and the Peace River leads on all counts. It is 500 miles shorter than the coast route - only 2,500 miles as against 3,050.
Upkeep Costs Lower
Construction and upkeep are much cheaper. The prairie route runs through mountains for less than 200 miles, compared with 1,500 miles for the coast route - 700 in the western states and 800 more in British Columbia. To within 50 miles of Finlay Forks the prairie route Is rarely more than 2,000 feet above sea level, almost the highest point being Edmonton, 2,200 feet, The coast route for hundreds of miles is rarely under 2,000 feet. In British Columbia it rises to 3,000 feet, and in the western states still higher.
Because of the low altitude on the prairie route, precipitation is less and winter operation feasible on most of its length, whereas on the coast route, mountain passes! are easily blocked by snow.
Defense of the prairie route would be much easier. It is twice as far inland as the coast route, is sheltered behind the Rocky mountains, and runs through open country where detours easily could be made if necessary. The coast route runs mostly through valleys, and near the Fraser river, it lies in a canyon where a single bomb could blow the road into the river.
Local Revenue Greater
Local revenue on the prairie route is much greater. For all but 200 miles of its length it is already a trunk highway through well-settled country, Whereas the coast route runs through sparsely-settled dry plains or mountain valleys almost all the way through the western states and British Columbia. Fuelling on the prairie route, from the defense angle, also, would be easier, with the Turner valley oll fields less exposed to possible attack.
On the northern part of the highway project, from Edmonton to Fairbanks, Alaska, all the same considerations seem to favor route No. 4 - from Edmonton to Great Slave lake, down the Mackenzie valley, and by the valley of the Peel river to near Dawson.
Government reports show the country traversed on the Mackenzie-Peel route to be open and less than 1,000 feet above sea level except in the 200 miles near Dawson, with clay or shale soil, large forests, medium precipitation, and gasoline supplies available from the oil field at Fort Norman. A good deal of local traffic would issue from the growing mining towns on Great Slave and Great Bear lakes and the Fort Norman oil wells, and there is good soil for gardening at least all along the route.
Mileage on the Finlay Forks-Yukon route from Edmonton would be about 1,750, of which nearly 1,200 miles would be entirely new construction. The Mackenzie-Peel
valley route would total about 1,900 miles, but of this only about 1,200 miles would be entirely new construction. A road is in use from Edmonton to beyond Peace River Crossing, 400 miles, and construction of a route for 350 miles to Hay river on Great Slave Slave lake has been agreed upon by the Dominion and Alberta governments, although the standard of construction is not yet decided.
Edmonton is 1,767 miles from Chicago. The whole distance from Chicago to Fairbanks via the prairies and the Mackenzie would be about 3,700 miles; via the prairies and the Yukon, about 3.500; and via the coast and the Yukon, about 4,000 miles.