Can drivers feel safe on the road this weekend?

The Minnesota Dr. airport off-ramp buckled by an earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska's Energy Desk)
The Minnesota Drive airport off-ramp buckled due to an earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov. 30, 2018. Even though a vehicle was trapped in the middle of the damage, DOT said there were no reports of severe driver injuries. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

If you were on social media Friday, you likely saw that picture of a bridge in Anchorage that was ripped apart by the earthquake.

The area sustained massive damage to its roads. During all the chaos, northbound and southbound parts of the Seward Highway were closed. It has since reopened. But there’s still a lot of infrastructure that will need to be repaired.

So, should drivers be nervous about getting around this weekend?

Shannon McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation, was in the parking lot when she heard a noise that sounded like a freight train. The ground began to rumble. She said it made for a wobbly walk inside the building.

“But I walked in, and I joined one of my coworkers under her desk,” McCarthy said.

Under the desk, while the ground was still trembling, McCarthy went to work. She attempted to update DOT’s social media on a day that would be all-hands-on-deck for the department.

There were street lights out, a part of the highway closed and, most visibly, there was the partial collapse of the ramp at the International and Minnesota Drive overpass.

McCarthy said it looked almost rippled — like you could see where the earthquake waves went through it.

“It just wasn’t able to take that flexing of the earth and so that’s when you have the underlined structure the gravel of the pavement,” McCarthy said. “That’s what seems to have moved and collapsed.”

McCarthy said this is the worse damage she’s seen to roads, in recent memory, because of an earthquake — likely millions of dollars in repairs. But it could have been much worse. All of the bridges and overpasses seemed to have held up — except for the one.

Which begs the question: Can drivers feel safe going over those bridges and overpasses now, given what just happened? 

“Absolutely,” McCarthy said. “And here’s why: Bridges in particular are critical pieces of infrastructure. We don’t want anything to happen to them so we design them to be resistant to earthquake forces.”

The ramp at the International and Minnesota Drive overpass was the unfortunate outlier during the quake.

And McCarthy said in the days and weeks to come, the Department of Transportation will go out and test the structural integrity of bridges and roads, just to make sure drivers are safe.

But she does caution: If you have plans, schedule in some extra time to get from point A to point B. Commutes around Anchorage are expected to take longer.

Drivers pass the collapsed exit ramp from International Airport Road to Minn. Blvd. in Anchorage (Video still by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

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