The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is among the most unique features in Alaska (and the United States as a whole). Any drive to Prince William Sound or Whittier involves this tunnel, and you must be prepared for this less-than-ordinary highway drive. Here are five facts that emphasize the quirks and elements of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel:
- Longest tunnel in North America: The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel spans 2.5 highway miles and is located beneath Maynard Mountain. It is the only access to Whittier, Alaska, and is a required route when traveling to Alaska’s scenic destinations.
- For trains and cars: The tunnel started out as a supply line to the small port city of Whittier in 1943. Originally, it only served rail traffic and primarily supported military efforts in World War II. It continued in that capacity until the 1960s, when the military abandoned it. The state overhauled the tunnel and added it to the highway system. This involved adding concrete for auto safety and bringing the traditional tracks so they were flush with this new road service. This made the tunnel one of the few dual-use roads in the country, and it serves trains and cars to this day.
- Single lane: While the tunnel accommodates traffic in both directions, it remains a single lane. Sharing a tunnel with other drivers and trains may seem questionable under this circumstance, but have no fear—the tunnel is managed by a sophisticated computer system that directs traffic and times travel to accommodate everyone. Traffic to Whittier allows one car to leave per half hour, and from Whittier, every hour. No bicycles or foot traffic are allowed. This allows plenty of time for traffic to flow, as the drive takes approximately 10 minutes.
- Safety first: Recognizing the unique challenges of a single-use, one-lane tunnel, the state assured safety of the tunnel in other ways, besides the traffic management system. While this drive may sound claustrophobic, there are emergency sidewalks and turnouts if you need them. Also, there are a series of safe houses in case of natural disasters or inclement weather. So, no—you cannot get stuck in this tunnel forever!
- Air quality is an issue: As you can imagine, having cars in an enclosed space may seem like an air quality nightmare. However, the highway department took this into account as well. After each drive, the reversible jet fans at each end of the tunnel force clear air to circulate, which reduces the carbon monoxide buildup. This makes it the first tunnel that uses jet turbine ventilation.
- Take your time: If your plans involve a cruise or other scheduled event, arrive early. In summer, it is estimated that the drive from Anchorage to Bear Valley is 1.5 hours—including tunnel navigation. Expect to catch a 7:30 a.m. opening for an early cruise or a 10:30 a.m. opening for an afternoon departure. Allow more time than you think you need, as this is not completely within your control!
For a complete Alaska adventure that includes the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, jet ski tours and other new experiences, contact Alaska Wild Guides today. We look forward to offering you a personal wilderness tour that you will never forget.