Roads for business and industry: driving the intermodal transportation system.

Author:Maloney, Lisa

In Alaska, where intermodal transport reigns supreme, the balance of sea, air, rail, and highway transportation is heavily weighted by the fact that although 82 percent of Alaska's communities aren't on the contiguous road system, more than 75 percent of the people are. If the Port of Anchorage is an artery feeding 90 percent of merchandise goods into the state, the state's roads are its capillaries, routing much of that merchandise to its final destination.

For the rest of the state, intermodal transportation is raised to a whole new level with heavy dependence on air transport, barges, and marine lighter-age (transferring cargo between vessels of different sizes--one way of bringing goods to land when there is no adequate port for a barge to dock). Cranes and other heavy equipment may also be used to transfer shipping containers when there is nowhere for a barge to dock.

But still, roads are usually the critical link that distributes commercial goods to their final destination--whether that means a tractor trailer hauling shipping containers in the big cities and regional hubs or four-wheelers and snowmachines hauling cargo sleds in smaller rural communities.

Serving Big Industries

Although truckers haul the majority of merchandise goods brought into Alaska, that's hardly the only commodity being shuffled on the road system. Many of the roads currently in use were originally built to support mining operations, and trucking is still one of the most efficient and flexible means of moving coal, sand, gravel, and ore--at least as far as the train station or port.

While Prudhoe Bay to the north might be where the first Alaska oilfields that come to mind are, there are many of producing oil and natural gas fields in the Kenai Peninsula and offshore Cook Inlet. Flatbed and stretch deck trucks help transport the heavy equipment needed for these industries.

Alaska's next-largest export after natural resources--seafood--also logs quite a few road miles on its way to dock or airport. Air shipments of Alaska seafood boomed during the 1990s, but most of the outbound fish is still packed into freezer vans or trucks then hauled onto barges and shipped to Japan or the Lower 48, with a small percentage being trucked all the way to the Lower 48.

There aren't many logging trucks zooming down Alaska's major highways, but 2013 statistics from the US Census Bureau rank the timber industry among the state's top ten exports. Truly remote working conditions can...

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