Modern Transportation and Communication Systems
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The traditional means of transportation in Alaska were for many decades the boat and dogsled. Boats are still more useful than automobiles in some communities, especially in the Alaska Panhandle. Air transportation, whether by commercial jet or small prop-driven airplanes, connects most cities and villages.

The only road into the state is the Alaska Highway, built as a military supply route in 1942 and extending from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Delta Junction south of Fairbanks, a distance of 2,288 km (1,422 mi). Another major land route, entirely within Alaska, is the Richardson Highway, about 590 km (about 370 mi), which connects Valdez with Fairbanks. In 2003 the state had 22,901 km (14,230 mi) of highways, including 1,741 km (1,082 mi) of the federal highway system. Even though Alaska has vast distances they are generally not connected by roads. All but three of the states–Rhode Island, Delaware, and Hawaii–have longer road systems than does Alaska.
Mining encouraged some railroad development in Alaska, including a line from Skagway to the Canadian Yukon goldfields and a line from the copper mines to Cordova. The Alaska Railroad, the only major line, was begun in 1914 and completed in 1923. It extends 776 km (482 mi), from Seward via Anchorage to Fairbanks. Nonmetallic minerals account for 48 of the tonnage of goods hauled by rail, while petroleum products constitute 32 percent and coal 15 percent. The state of Alaska purchased the Alaska Railroad from the federal government and now operates it as a state-owned corporation. The White Pass and Yukon Railroad, from Skagway to Whitehorse, has been redeveloped as a popular summer tourist attraction.
There are more airplanes per person in Alaska than in any other state. The airplane is the cheapest means of long-distance travel and well suited to serve a small population scattered over a large area. The use of small, light aircraft typifies local air travel, but Alaska also has jet service to its principal communities. The state had 24 airports in 2002, nearly all of them small airstrips. The airport in Anchorage is the state’s busiest.
Ships carry cargo and passengers between Alaska and the Pacific coast states and Asia. The principal ports along Alaska’s Pacific coast are Anchorage, Ketchikan, Skagway, Wrangell, Sitka, Whittier, Valdez, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, which are ice-free throughout the year. Nome is the principal port on the Bering Sea, but is open for only a short period during the ice-free summer weeks. In summer large cargoes are often towed on barges to Prudhoe Bay. A state-operated ferry system connects ports in Alaska with those in Washington State and British Columbia, Canada.
Most of Alaska’s food supply, with the exception of some dairy products, fish, poultry, and vegetables, has to be shipped in from other states. Manufactured foods must also be imported. Alaska has become a major foreign-exporting state primarily because of its fisheries and mining. Alaska’s exports of fish, minerals, and some forest products have an annual value of as much as billion a year. Most goods go to Japan, South Korea, and other Asian markets, and in recent years exports to the Russian Far East have been increasing. Alaska imports most of its consumer goods, primarily through the port of Anchorage, and the Alaskan trade has long been important to the economies of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma in Washington state.