Highways and Public Works

Shakwak Project

The Shakwak Project

In 1970, the U.S. Congress requested that a feasibility study be made for paving the Haines Road and the northern portion of the Alaska Highway to provide an all-weather roadway between Southeast and interior Alaska.
The project covers approximately 325 miles:

  • the Canadian segment of the Haines Road from Haines, Alaska, to Haines Junction; and
  • the northern portion of the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction to the Alaska Border.

Engineering goals
The goal has been to reconstruct roughly 500 km of the highway to a modern two-lane 100 km/h standard, following the existing road, with realignments where needed to meet modern standards.

The Shakwak Project on the Alaska Highway has presented some unique challenges; particularly achieving a stable road over permafrost soil continues. Many of the soils are of glacial origin and are termed “ice rich”, requiring disposal of millions of cubic meters of material because it is unsuitable for road embankments.

Anything that causes the permafrost to melt will cause the ice rich soil to liquefy. Liquid soil has little strength and will settle or subside. When it freezes, it will expand or heave. This process causes large amount of damage on road surfaces. Undulations and cracking decrease drivability.


Thawed Permafrost
Handling thawed permafrost soil is nearly impossible for equipment. Some especially problematic areas of the Shakwak Project have been reconstructed during winter to minimize such problems.

Thawing is always deeper under culverts because of air and water passing through. It can be caused by:

  • disturbing the soil during construction,
  • soil contact with ground water, or
  • simply a warmer climate.

Some work undertaken to meet this challenge

  • designing and building a road embankment to minimize melting 
  • excavating large volumes of affected soil to meet road alignment needs
  • quarrying large amounts of rock and gravel to provide suitable construction materials
  • constructing granular blankets on ice rich slopes for stabilization and allowance of melting and settling without major slope failure 
  • installing culverts in thawed streambeds, or insulating these with styrofoam and granular bedding material

American and Canadian scientists and engineers continue to research techniques with potential to slow down melting beneath the roadbed and achieve a more stable highway embankment.

Contact Us

Contact Transportation Engineering

Government of Yukon
Department of Highways and Public Works
Box 2703 (W-13)
Whitehorse, YT Y1A 2C6
Phone: (867) 667-8820
Toll free in Yukon: 1-800-661-0408 - local 8820
Fax: (867) 393-6447

Contact Transportation Maintenance

Department of Highways and Public Works
Government of Yukon
Box 2703 (W-12)
Whitehorse, YT Y1A 2C6
Phone: (867) 667-5644
Toll free (In Yukon): 1-800-661-0408, local 5644
Fax: (867) 667-3648
Email: highways@gov.yk.ca