Access, Equity, and Safety in Rural Road Development: Historical Evidence from the Dalton highway

Access and lack of access have defined the modern development of Alaska. While transportation infrastructures have been key to facilitating resource extraction, the expansion of these systems, especially automobile-focused road systems, have had outsized impact on rural, isolated, tribal and indigenous communities (RITI) in Alaska. While these communities historically had limited opportunities to shape rural road construction and their multifaceted impacts, RITI communities have sought to mitigate perceived threats to sovereignty, subsistence activities, and traditional lifeways. This study investigates the historical example of the construction of the Dalton Highway—the most significant new road built in Alaska since 1971—to analyze how historical changes in access (both new infrastructures and access policies) and equity (who decides, who benefits, who is seen as a stakeholder) have impacted safety, broadly defined, in RITI communities throughout Northern Alaska. The James Dalton Highway is the only surface transportation corridor connecting the Alaska road system with the Arctic and North Slope regions of the state. It is a vital transportation and logistics corridor for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, the North Slope oil fields, and various other communities and stakeholders throughout the region. Constructed in 1974 as a critical precursor infrastructure of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, the “Haul Road” has simultaneously facilitated the export of raw materials and game from the area and enabled greater access for local communities.