ASTAR in the Arctic: Big changes could be in store for far north communities.

AuthorJoyal, Brad

Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay, Utqiagvik, and Wainwright account for the overwhelming majority of the North Slope Borough's 9,000 permanent residents, but aside from Nuiqsut, which can be accessed by the Dalton Highway for four months of the year, the remaining Arctic communities are removed from the rest of the state.

That may change in the future, creating new possibilities for the state's Arctic infrastructure.

According to Jeff Currey, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' (DOT&PF) Northern Region materials engineer, the North Slope may undergo changes that would see new road systems brought to the Arctic.

"There's a project in the works called ASTAR, and the idea of it is building year-round, all-weather roads from the Dalton Highway to some of the other communities on the North Slope, such as Utqiagvik," Currey says. "It's probably a few years off, or it might not happen at all--it's tough to say. But I do know that the Department of Geological and Geopnysical Surveys oversees that project and they've asked my group to support them with investigations. In fact, we had a helicopter up there this past summer looking for materials to build such roads."

Changing the Landscape

The Arctic Strategic Transportation and Resources project, or ASTAR, is under the purview of the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS). One of ASTAR's biggest projects--the idea of building a road system that would allow transportation throughout the Arctic--is unprecedented due to the materials that would be needed. Year-round overland connectivity to North Slope Borough communities would require permanent gravel infrastructure and would demand specialized construction methods, such as thicker gravel embankments or insulated embankments to preserve permafrost beneath the road. And while ASTAR is often connected to the vast road system project (which was first introduced in 2017 when then-Governor Bill Walker's administration announced $7.3 million in funding would be devoted to the endeavor), DGGS geologist Trent Hubbard is quick to point out that ASTAR isn't solely focused on building roads in the Arctic.

"The overall mission of ASTAR is to identify and evaluate advanced opportunities for responsible infrastructure development which serve to enhance quality of life and economic opportunities in the North Slope Borough," Hubbard says. "The state, Arctic communities, and stakeholders are...

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