Alaska : extreme environments

Alaska : extreme environments

In the space of twenty years, Colaska has established itself as a major transport infrastructure construction and maintenance player in Alaska and the state’s biggest producer of bitumen emulsions and aggregates. Colas’ North American subsidiary carries out projects in the most extreme conditions. Let’s head north…

Extract of Routes 43


Alaska : extreme environments

ALASKA, LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN. “Land of the Midnight Sun”, “The Last Frontier” or “The Great Land”: Alaska goes by many names. “Bigger than France, Germany, the UK and Italy combined, this vast territory makes up one fifth of the total landmass of the United States. It boasts 47,000 km of coastline, more than 3,000 rivers, 3™million lakes and 100,000 glaciers”, says Jon Fuglestad, President of Colaska. The people who live there, separated from the rest of the USA by Canada, are attached to this immense land and have developed a deep-rooted solidarity to help them cope with the long, freezing winters. Bought from Russia in 1867, Alaska immediately set about developing its industries. Today, the raw material, oil and gas, fishing and timber sectors are the most dynamic, drawing in a number of foreign-owned companies.

COLASKA, AN ACQUISITION STRATEGY. Colas, already present in neighboring Canadian states, first entered Alaska in 1999, when it took over South East Construction (SECON) based in the capital, Juneau. The company soon made further acquisitions, including Quality Asphalt Paving (QAP) in 2000, Exclusive Paving in 2004 and Emulsion Products in 2005. In 2018, a new milestone was reached: Colaska bought Southeast Road Builders (SERB) in order to strengthen its position in the southeastern region of the State, develop new synergies within the subsidiary and secure new markets in Haines and on Prince of Wales Island. “Our network is extremely dense, coupled with the fact that QAP, Exclusive Paving, SECON and SERB operate on the basis of a vertical integration model”, explains Jon Fuglestad. Each company has its own facilities and equipment: crushers, bitumen emulsion plants and concrete plants. As a result, teams are able to operate throughout the State. Colaska’s main customers include the Alaska Department of Transportation (earthworks and road construction and maintenance), mining companies (construction of access roads) and the Defense Department (construction of airfield infrastructures and missile defense sites). “Colaska is one of Alaska’s leading producers of aggregates, asphalt mixes, polymer modified bitumens and concrete, and is a major road construction and maintenance player in the state. The subsidiary has numerous references to its name”, underlines Jon Fuglestad.

COLASKA’S CHALLENGES. Colaska faces numerous challenges, both logistical – specific problems in terms of obtaining raw material supplies – and technical. For example, teams are regularly called upon to transport materials by barge to remote sites with no access to the road network. These types of operations can sometimes take 24 days, as is the case between the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea as far as Norton Sound. But Colaska also has to contend with climate-related constraints. “We have a short working window, generally from April to mid-October. Some operations are carried out during the winter if necessary, such as the construction of ice roads or the excavation of materials from frozen river beds and lakes for later use in the spring”, explains Jon Fuglestad. Todd Porter, General Manager of QAP has had to overcome just such challenges for the Parks Highway (in central Alaska) and Haines Highway (in southeast Alaska) projects: “The main difficulty has been dealing with the cold and wet, despite the fact that 2019 has been one of the hottest ever recorded in Alaska. We’ve had some serious forest fires. Fire prevention measures have entailed traffic restrictions.” Another example is in North Pole, southeast of Fairbanks, where Colaska is installing 55 kilometers of pre-insulated water pipes of varying dimensions and carrying out modernization and extension work on the existing water treatment plant. Launched in January 2018, the work has been carried out during the winter to enable teams to install the pipelines in wet zones and areas where the high water table was still frozen. The teams managed to prevent thawing of the permafrost and at the same time stop it drying out. The project is set to be completed by the end of 2019. In parallel, Colaska is conducting a number of other major projects all over the state: road resurfacing work on the Glenn Highway (southern Alaska); runway rehabilitation at Anchorage Airport, etc.

OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE. The State of Alaska has launched some ambitious projects for the future development of natural gas, including the construction of an 800-km gas pipeline and a new port. Potential long-term mining opportunities to extract copper, gold, silver and rare metals, are currently being investigated. “If the permits are awarded, there will be access roads to build for the mining projects”, believes Jon Fuglestad. In addition, the idea - first touted fifty years ago - for a railroad linking Alaska to Canada via the Yukon is once again on the table. Resources, including iron ore and oil, currently shipped by boat, would be transported more quickly with this new railway. If this project materializes in the near future, Colaska could play a key role.

Alaska : extreme environments

  • 850

    employees are hired by Colaska

  • 27

    Gravel pits are directly operated by Colaska.

  • 50

    airports, out of a total of 300 in the state, have been buil

  • 89,6

    MT of authorized reserves of aggregates are

  • 7

    Companies have been acquired by Colaska since

Rehabilitation of a four-lane highway

QAP rebuilt the Glenn Highway, a four-lane route linking South Inner Springer Loop to West Arctic Avenue, near Palmer, in southern Alaska. On the agenda for this project: the addition of traffic lanes, turning lanes and frontage roads, as well as signs and lighting.

RAW MATERIALS : 900,000 tons of aggregates

COST : $36.6 million, i.e., €33 million


DELIVERY : October 2019

Highway safety upgrade

SECON rehabilitated a 20-km section of the Haines Highway, in southeast Alaska. Work involved upgrading the route to comply with safety standards by widening the traffic lanes and shoulders and realigning tight bends.

RAW MATERIALS : 70,000 tons of asphalt mixes

COST : $ 39.8 million, i.e., €36 million


DELIVERY : October 2019