Today in Transportation History – 1905: An American Territory Gets a Road Commission

The Board of Road Commissioners for Alaska – better known as the Alaska Road Commission (ARC) – was organized by order of U.S. War Secretary (and future president) William Howard Taft to oversee construction of highways in what was then an American territory. The ARC was created in response to a steadily growing demand for adequate roads in Alaska. The first head of the commission was U.S. Army Brigadier General Wilds P. Richardson; he served in this role until 1917.

The ARC wasted little if any time carrying out its work and, within just a couple of years, upgraded 200 miles (321.87 kilometers) of existing trails and cleared 285 miles (458.66 kilometers) for new routes. The ARC’s major accomplishments included bringing about needed improvements to such key Alaska roads as the present-day Richardson Highway and Steese Highway. Overall, the ARC left a far-reaching imprint on highway development throughout Alaska.

One ARC legacy still around today can be seen in Denali National Park and Preserve. Some of the shelter cabins built there by the commission during the construction of the Denali Park Road are now used as patrol cabins by National Park Service rangers.

The ARC was transferred to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1932, and then became part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Public Roads in 1956. In the time since Alaska joined the union in 1959, the one-time road development and maintenance responsibilities of the ARC have been handled by the state’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

For more information on the Alaska Road Commission, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Road_Commission.

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