US Highway 97 in Alaska

The Territories of Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii were included in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, with the latter two, Alaska and Hawaii preparing to become US states, which they would become in 1959. 

As such, a question arose as to whether the US Route system could be expanded into these new future-states as well. While a US Highway that entered another state, or was over 300 miles in length would be impossible in Hawaii, it would be easily possible in the vastness that is Alaska, and thus a push was made to give the Alaska Highway the US-97 designation.

US Highway 97 has been mostly the same since it was first designated 1934, running from Weed, CA in the south where it started at US-99, now Interstate 5, to the Canadian Border north of Oroville, WA. 

But in trying to connect the future State of Alaska to the Lower 48 in a more concise way, the idea of a northerly extension to US-97 gained serious traction, to the point where signs were actually created for the highway.

This shield was on display at the Museum of History at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Image: James Teresco

An even more ambitious proposal for a 97 highway failed to gain traction in the early 1950's, which would have also extended US-97 south from Weed to the Mexican Border and ultimately Mexico City in a much earlier version of a proto-NAFTA superhighway, or an attempt to provide a single numbered route to a large swath of the Pan American Highway.

But only the northward extension to Alaska gained any serious momentum. AASHO, however, would not approve the US-97 numbering for Alaska unless the road was continuously numbered as 97 throughout Canada, which was an odd request since US-2 has a gap in it, as one example.

In 1953, British Columbia complied with the scheme, renumbering roads to create BC-97 which ran, and still runs, from the US Border to the Yukon Territory, however the Yukon would not change their highway network to have a 97 route between British Columbia and Alaska, and thus the idea of a US Highway in Alaska never came to fruition, with the approval for US-97 rescinded in 1968.

US Ends created a pretty awesome map showing how a US-97 in Alaska would have looked like, embedded below: 

I don't think anyone in Alaska could be confused with a 97 numbering and somehow believe they're in the Lower 48, but meanwhile AASHTO has no problem with a duplicitous Interstate 87 in North Carolina (that is an east-west highway signed as north-south no less). Go figure. As such, the Alaska Highway between the Yukon Border and Livengood is now AK-2.

While I think it would be neat to have a US Route enter the State of Alaska, and I think that enough of a demand was there that it probably should have been implemented, whether the Yukon Territory wished to re sign a part of their road network or not, it's probably pretty inconsequential in terms of the Alaska road network. As expansive as the Alaska Highway is, it probably would matter little today as to what system of highway it is signed under. 

Thanks as always for reading!


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