Bill Sheffield: transportation industry icon.

Author:Barbour, Tracy


In Alaska, perhaps no one symbolizes the transportation industry more than former Gov. Bill Sheffield. Eighty-one-year-old Sheffield--who has spent nearly six decades serving Alaska--is currently the director of the Port of Anchorage and vice chairman of the Alaska Railroad Corp. board of directors.

In these roles, he sits at the center of a transportation system that is vital to Alaska--a vast state that spans 600,000 square miles. While most Alaskans are concentrated in the Southcentral region, the rest of the population is scattered throughout some 250 villages across the state.

"Transportation, in Alaska, is everything," Sheffield says.

Alaska's transportation system comprises a network of roads, airports, ferries, rails and ports. The Alaska highway system covers a relatively small area of the state, connecting only the main population centers. However, major airports in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan and minor airports elsewhere offer extensive air transportation throughout the state. Even remote villages have airports, or at least makeshift runways. Alaska also has a well-developed ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway, which primarily serves the Southeast and Alaska Peninsula.

The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward to Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks to North Pole, with spurs to Whittier and Palmer. The railroad--which uniquely carries both freight and passengers--is a critical element in moving Alaska's natural resources and other items to ports in Anchorage, Whittier and Seward.

Disruptions to the state's transportation system could be potentially devastating.

"We have a seven-to-14-day supply of fuel and groceries in Alaska," Sheffield says. "If one part of that segment breaks down, it would be a major problem."



Sheffield, who came to Alaska in 1953 as a young sales representative for Sears Roebuck and built a successful network of hotels, isn't daunted by problems. In fact, he has a long, legendary history of addressing the state's transportation problems. As Alaska's governor from 1982 to 1986, he successfully negotiated the transfer of the Alaska Railroad from the federal government in May 1984. Sheffield says he worked hard to bring about legislation to secure the funds about $23 million--for the railroad's purchase because he felt it was crucial for the State to own the railroad and run it like a business.

"We won that battle and lost a few...

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