Woodrow Woody Johansen


Many of northern Alaska’s major modern roads were built under the direction of Hendryx Woodrow “Woody” Johansen, a 1940 graduate in civil engineering.

Johansen grew up in Cordova and graduated as high school valedictorian in 1932. Like many university students of that era, he alternated mining work and school, so college required seven years to complete.

The wartime shortage of teachers drew Johansen back to UA in 1942 — this time as a faculty member. He spent the next decade at the university, becoming head of the Civil Engineering Department.

Johansen then joined the Alaska Road Commission, a federal agency created in 1920. In the years just before statehood, the ARC merged with the Bureau of Public Roads, a sister federal agency that, given Alaska’s challenging conditions, sometimes was dubbed the “Bureau of Parallel Ruts.” The federal road agencies became the Alaska Department of Transportation after statehood. 

Working up to district engineer in Fairbanks, Johansen stayed with the organization until retiring in 1979. He oversaw the building of the Dalton Highway, the northern half of the Parks Highway and most of the main roads in the Fairbanks area. He also managed construction of the Hickel Highway, an ice road from Livengood to Prudhoe Bay built in 1968 after discovery of the North Slope’s biggest oil field. 

After retirement, Johansen consulted with the Associated General Contractors to untangle a backlog of state projects in the post-oil pipeline boom. 

“He was one of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with,” wrote Charles Behlke, former dean of the School of Engineering, in an obituary published by The Northern Engineer magazine after Johansen died in 1991. “He excelled as a professional engineer, as an academician, and as a human being. He encouraged others to strive for excellence, and helped them to achieve it.”

The Johansen Expressway, which connects east and west sides of Fairbanks, was named for him in 1988.

Johansen married his wife, Carolyn, in the early 1940s and they had four children, all of whom remained in Alaska.

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