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The town of Whittier is perched right on the edge of a mountain pressed up against the Prince William Sound, and you have to get through that mountain to access the town. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel does the job, and is North America’s longest highway tunnel. This amazing piece of architecture is a marvel and anyone in the area should head to Whittier as the town, and tunnel, are unforgettables.
Travel between the Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula has always been necessary in Alaska. The Chugach people who lived in the area walked over Portage Glacier to get from the ocean access inland for travel and trade.
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel was created in 1941 when the U.S. Army began construction of the railroad spur from Whittier to Portage. The tunnel was completed in 1943 and became Alaska’s main supply link for the war effort.
The Tunnel Portal Building houses ventilation fans, a garage for fire trucks, and an electrical sub station. The Portal is made of 14 inches of concrete and was designed to withstand a major avalanche.
The tunnel goes through Maynard Mountain for 13,300 ft. (2.5 miles) and is the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America. The original railroad tunnel was expanded in 1998 to include vehicle traffic.
The tunnel is bored directly through the mountain rock and is extremely stable.
When the 1964 Good Friday Eathquake hit, the epicenter was very nearby in the Prince William Sound. The 9.2 quake was the largest in North American history and the tunnel suffered no significant structural damage and no cave-ins.
The design allows a single lane of traffic to drive over the railroad tracks, so cars are allowed through one direction at a time in 30 minute increments. The drive takes about 6 minutes at 25 MPH to travel through the tunnel.
There are vehicle turnout areas along the length of the tunnel with safehouses, a public announcement system and a telephone to the management in case of emergency.
The pedestrian tunnel is separate and ventilated. You can travel a short distance by bike or on foot for a creepy, and exciting, adventure through a mountain, but it doesn’t connect to the other side.
The tunnel is the first U.S. tunnel with jet turbine and portal fan ventilation, first tunnel with computerized regulation of both rail and highway traffic, and the first tunnel designed for -40° F. and 150 mph winds.
Arrive on the other side in the charming town of Whittier. Travel through the Anton Anderson Tunnel and you can say you’ve been through North America’s longest highway tunnel!