$871M DOT budget includes roads, airports, more

Posted: Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Gov. Sean Parnell's 2012 draft capital budget, released Dec. 15, contains about $1.5 billion worth of allocations, including more than $835 million in federal funds.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities received the lion's share of the funding: about $871 million worth of road, marine and aviation-related construction projects.

The DOT capital budget dwarfs that of other departments, with the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development coming in second at more than $206 million.

Roads to resources

During the unveiling of the budget, and during an announcement of several new department commissioner appointments in November, Parnell stressed the importance of erecting roads to areas of the state rich in natural resources, and the budget contains three items under a "roads to resources" banner.

"It's time to put Alaska's resources to work for Alaska. We'll do our part by building roads to resources," Parnell said.

For fiscal year 2012, the governor is requesting $10.5 million for this year's "roads to resources" allocations.

Some $8 million is being requested for a road reaching from the Dalton Highway to Umiat. The project is multi-phased, according to documentation on a state website; during the first phase, an 85-mile-long road would reach the Gubik Gas Fields vicinity "in order to capitalize on potential exploration and development within the project study area," according to the site.

The second phase would then extend the road the rest of the 15 miles to Umiat, and would result in the construction of a bridge across the Colville River.

That phase is intended to make the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska accessible year-round.

The fiscal year 2012 allocation would be used to produce an environmental impact statement, according to the documentation. An EIS is required to be produced, in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act, when federal funds are involved in such a project.

EIS documents allow federal authorities to determine which of several possible routes a project like this one should take.

Some $1.25 million would be allocated to a project that aims to connect the Dalton Highway to the Ambler mining district. This allocation would fund environmental and engineering studies related to subsistence activities in the region, which the online documentation stated is an important issue to locals.

The area contains 35,000 acres of patented and state mining claims, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development's website.

The Western Alaska Access Study Project, which would receive a $1.25 million allocation under the governor's 2012 budget, ultimately aims to connect Nome to the state's roadway system.

Earlier this year, a state-funded study priced the road at nearly $3 billion. For decades, Alaskans have debated and deliberated over the project.

The 2012 allocation would advance the project to its preliminary engineering phase, in addition to the detailed construction recommendations, satellite imagery, field studies, in-depth cost estimates and earlier development of permits, according to the online documentation.

Anchorage airport

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport received, as usual, a bevy of allocations in the budget, the largest of which was a $30 million allocation the airport for a structure to keep the airplane deicing fluid from making its way into local waterways.

John Parrott, the airport's manager, said it is not known how big the facility will be, nor the type of structure. It could be anything from a holding pond to a chemical treatment plant, Parrott said.

The dollar figure is an estimate at this point, Parrott said, and does not necessarily reflect the final cost of the project.

The structure will help the airport fall in line with any future U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding how much of the fluid can be allowed to escape into a waterway, Parrott said.

"We're working with (air) carriers on a monthly basis to try to determine what can be done to reduce glycol deicing fluid," on airport runways, Parrott said.

The airport is flanked to the north, west and south by the Knik and Turnagain arms of Cook Inlet.

An allocation of more than $6.5 million is set to go to the rehabilitation of the airport's 7L runway, an amount that is requested in anticipation of repaving the runway in 2013.

The pricetag on the runway rehabilitation, including a previous allocation, is $35 million, Parrott said.

The last time the runway was rehabilitated was in the late 1990s, Parrott said.

"This is a maintenance and prevention effort, not an emergency repair-type effort," Parrott said.

Funding to the Anchorage airport comes in the form of Federal Aviation Administration grants, Parrott said, and passage of a budget by the legislature means the airport can request the listed amounts from the FAA.

The vast majority of the project cost is federal, but there is a small local match, which is paid for by airport revenue, Parrott said.

Rural airports

In the state's rural communities, airports are a transportation lifeline. DOT's capital budget contains a number of rural airport rehabilitation and construction projects.

In Deadhorse, $30.4 million in federal money will be allocated, if the budget passes as-is, for the first two phases of a rehabilitation project at the local airport. A runway will be rehabilitated and airport lighting will be replaced in the first stage, according to an online budget document.

The second stage will involve the rehabilitation of all taxiways, the reconstruction of a terminal apron, the paving of the gravel apron and other improvements, according to the document.

Some $26.5 million in federal receipts would be allocated to Dillingham Airport to allow for the expansion of a runway safety area, replacement of the lighting system and any necessary land acquisitions.

According to the budget documentation, the FAA has mandated that runway safety areas, which are paved areas on the sides of runways that allow for space to land if a pilot over- or undershoots a landing, be improved by 2015.

Unalaska Airport would get a $25.7 million allocation for a project to construct a runway safety area and address poor pavement conditions.

"The Unalaska Airport is an important certificated airport with over 20,000 annual operations," online documentation stated.

Surface roadways

Roads in Anchorage and all over the state are getting some funding for rehabilitation, widening and other construction, as are bridges and other modes of surface transportation.

An upgrade and extension of West Dowling Road in Anchorage, from Old Seward Highway to Minnesota Drive, is one of the more noteworthy roadway projects on the budget.

The 2012 budget includes $22 million for the project. The online budget documentation lists a number of improvements in what looks to be a very complex project; widening Dowling Road to five lanes between Old Seward and B Street, constructing a five-lane extension from B to C Street, replacing Campbell Creek Bridge and installing a new traffic signal at C Street are all components of the project.

According to a previous media report, the cost for the project altogether is about $80 million.

Federal receipts of $17.5 million would go to a project to replace Brotherhood Bridge and connecting roadways in Juneau.

"There have been 30 injury accidents in the mile around this bridge, and one fatality (though it is accepted that this fatality was the result of negligence on the part of the other driver)," according to the online documentation. "Pavement Serviceability Index for this area is 'poor' and ruts are almost an inch deep."

Design is expected to be completed by the fall of 2012, and construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, according to the documents.

Marine highway

Some $15 million on the budget would go toward refurbishing ferries on the state's Marine Highway system.

"Each vessel's propulsion, electrical, plumbing, sewage treatment, ventilation and communication systems and the crew and passenger lounges, dining rooms, cafeterias, hotel facilities, hull and components in general are all in various states of deterioration and in need of refurbishment," the documents stated.

From fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2017, federal receipts are requested for a total of $115 million.

Upgrades and refurbishments to the ferries M/V Leconte and M/V Taku are listed as "current" projects in the documents. Upgrades and refurbishments to the M/V Aurora are listed as upcoming and currently in the design phase, in addition to two other projects listed.

Interviews with DOT officials other than those at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport were requested, but DOT spokesman Roger Wetherell did not arrange anything before press time.

Sean Manget can be reached at sean.manget@alaskajournal.com.

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