I visited Whittier, a little port town on Prince William Sound that is just over
the mountain from Portage, about 50 miles south of Anchorage.
It's an odd little town for a couple reasons.
First of all, the only reason it exists is because the U.S. military was
afraid Japan might destroy Valdez during World War II and they put in a fuel
terminal there. The problem is,
there was no way to get to it, except by water or air.
To solve that problem, they drilled a tunnel through the mountain, a
distance of almost 2½ miles, so they could run a train through it. It was a significant engineering accomplishment for that day
in that they drilled from both sides of the mountain and met in the middle.
The calculations were so precise that they came within a few inches of
being right on.
not sure why, but there was some public demand to make access to Whittier even
easier. There aren't more than a
couple hundred people who live there and no real attraction, except maybe access
to Prince William Sound, but for some reason they decided they needed to give
people easier access to the town. Up
until a couple years ago, the only way you could get your car to Whittier was to
put it on a rail car and send it through the tunnel.
I'm not sure why you'd want to do that, since you can walk around town
and go from end to end in about 20 minutes.
It's really that small. Furthermore,
just about all the residents of the town live in one big building that looks
like a government housing unit. I
think it is a government housing unit. Just
as Alaska has the reputation of being a place to which people run to escape
something in their life, Whittier is where people in Alaska go to escape.
That'll probably change now that access is easier.
they decided to open up the tunnel to car traffic and the way they did it was to
pave it, like they pave a railroad crossing on highways, and allow the autos to
drive right on the tracks. It works
pretty well. The tunnel is open to
east-bound traffic on the hour and west-bound traffic on the half hour, and the
railroad gets priority when it comes through, of course.
The toll is $15.00, which sounds a little steep, but the drive through
the tunnel is worth at least $5.00. If
the additional $10.00 seems too spendy, you can avoid the cost by driving from
Anchorage to Valdez and boarding a ferry to Whittier because you pay the toll
when you go into Whittier.
wasn't much to see there, mostly because the weather was cold and rainy, so the
scenery was pretty well obscured, but I spent about an hour and a half sitting
at a little waterfront restaurant enjoying some great halibut and shrimp.