My office recently got a call from Charles Bergonzini of Sterling. He had called the Soldotna road maintenance shop and spoke with the acting state road maintenance supervisor about the poor and dangerous conditions of the roads.
During the conversation, the state employee asked Mr. Bergonzini how he voted on the advisory vote in September. The state employee then said, "that is what you get for voting against using the PFD." It is obvious that from the governor's office right on down, they are using politics as a punishment for the advisory vote.
I have received many phone calls, e-mails and letters of complaint and concern about the condition of the roads in the local area. I think most of us could see the problem coming as a result of Gov. Tony Knowles' handling of the cuts to the Department of Transportation budget. I have found it very difficult to get information from Gov. Knowles' office that justifies the closure of the Nikiski maintenance shop or a satisfactory plan that addresses safety issues. In a press release the governor states that getting kids to school and citizens to work, providing for the efficient flow of goods and ensuring a safe transportation system is the priority. Apparently, this is just more political rhetoric.
It was the governor who chose to designate snow removal in Nikiski to be non-essential in comparison to bike paths and sterilizing wolves so as not to upset the environmentalists. At the same time, the governor, through reclassification, gave a $400,000 raise to state Department of Transportation employees. As a result we have seen a big drop in the level of service and safety in Nikiski and the whole Kenai Peninsula area.
I am sure DOT workers are doing the best they can with what they have, but what they have to work with is the result of decisions made this fall by Gov. Knowles. The current level of service does not meet safety requirements.
As of today, we have not seen a management plan as required by law and asked for by the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The state is already contacting private companies for snow removal. We need to privatize all snow removal. Private contractors could do it more efficiently and would save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What can be done? Contact the governor's office by mail, phone, e-mail, or send public opinion messages (by calling 283-2030) asking that Gov. Knowles provide a management plan as required by law -- a plan that will ensure that children are getting to school and citizens to work, providing for the efficient flow of goods and ensuring a safe transportation system.
Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, represents District E which includes Kenai and Nikiski in the state Senate. He was elected to the Senate in 1996. He can be reached at 283-7996.
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