Alaska kids are returning to school and, over the next couple of weeks, one subject of many writing essays will likely be, “what did you read over the summer?” No doubt, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” will be the most frequent answer.
We at DOT have been poring over a different book more than 1,700 pages, mostly non-fiction, but for those who follow transportation issues just as compelling as the adventures of Harry Potter. It was published by a prominent organization in Washington, DC, also known as the U.S. Congress. The name of the book is too long to include in this book report, but its short title is the new highway bill, or SAFETEA-LU.
As our analysis proceeds, we are getting a clearer picture of how Alaska’s transportation infrastructure will benefit from federal investments over the coming five years.
Total authorization for Alaska in the bill is more than $2.5 billion over the five years, including $1 billion in “earmarks” and $1.5 billion in regular funds the most Alaska has ever received.
Earmarks are funds directed to specific projects, many of which have been identified by communities or the state for many years. By earmarking a project, Congress has agreed that the project is their priority, too. Many of these earmarks are priorities of the state and will help bring much needed and long discussed projects to fruition, including the Knik Arm Bridge, the Gravina Island Bridge and the Juneau Access road.
Several organizations other than the Alaska DOT highway program received earmarks, too. Some notable highlights include:
· Anchorage Port $57 million
· Denali Commission $100 million
· University of Alaska $16 million
· Alaska Railroad $10 million
· Alaska Ship and Drydock $50 million
· Alaska Marine Highway System $101 million
The $1.5 billion provided in the bill for our regular program funding will pay for numerous projects identified and prioritized through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) such as those for congestion relief, reconstruction, resurfacing, safety improvements, bridges, and to meet air quality standards, among others.
As we look to the near-term future, more significant investments will need to be made in Alaska’s transportation system to provide for the construction of a gas pipeline. Much of that investment will be, by necessity, in the Interior and around Fairbanks. As we move forward, a partnership between the State, Federal government, local communities, and others will probably be the best way to fund and construct the necessary infrastructure. It is in Alaska’s interest, and in the nation’s interest.
I would like to express my appreciation to our Congressional delegation for its perseverance and hard work on the highway bill. The last highway bill, TEA-21, expired last year. Crafting and getting approval for SAFETEA-LU was a significant accomplishment for Congressman Don Young, Senator Ted Stevens, and Senator Lisa Murkowski. Through their efforts, Alaska did very well. The per capita investment for transportation in Alaska far exceeds any other state.
This bill gives us the opportunity to develop projects that would have otherwise not been possible.
Mike Barton is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
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