Before next Tuesday, the legislature will vote on a $2 billion-plus capital budget one of the biggest the state has ever seen. Despite record oil revenues, there are other critical needs that the legislature has refused to address. Many of our existing roads, including Kalifornsky Beach, will continue to crumble. And the legislature has yet to commit to funding levels that would enable Kenai schools to maintain current class sizes.
It’s not for a lack of money; it’s a lack of prioritization that’s the problem. Take for example the $45 million that the legislature is poised to spend on the Juneau road extension.
Now let’s be clear, we’re not talking about a road to Juneau. We’re talking about a road from Juneau to a dead end. You’ll still have to get on a boat to travel to or from the capital.
Residents of the local communities have continually opposed the project. Maybe that’s because they know intimately the intimidating terrain of the Lynn Canal North America’s deepest fjord. No less than 60 avalanche chutes line the fjord, making the Seward Highway look safer than Sesame Street.
DOT estimates the project will cost over a quarter billion dollars, engineers and avalanche experts estimate it will cost even more. The $45 million from the state will help kick-start construction of the road this summer. What’s perhaps most maddening is that those state funds could be used to meet just about any other state need from maintaining our existing infrastructure to funding our schools.
It just so happens that $45 million is exactly the figure a state commissioned study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research identified as the magic number necessary for maintaining current levels of educational programming for Kenai and other school districts across the state.
Tell your legislators to get their priorities straight. Let’s not waste this opportunity to fund education and repair our existing roads by throwing away our money of a road to nowhere.
Emily Ferry is coordinator of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, a statewide watchdog organization advocating for sensible transportation spending.
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