Knowles touts transportation improvements during tenure

Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles touted the accomplishments of his administration, including transportation upgrades and salmon habitat improvements, in a farewell address to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

One of Knowles' major goals when he took office eight years ago was to improve the state's transportation system, he said in a speech Monday. Long, bumpy miles of Alaska's major highways were narrow, unsafe and unpaved. Airports needed overhauling, and the ferry system needed faster vessels.

''I'm glad to report our mission is accomplished,'' he said. ''Our national highway systems from Prudhoe Bay to Tok to Fairbanks to Anchorage, Seward and Ketchikan will provide Alaskans with 21st century safe, efficient access.''

Knowles also said his administration had made progress in fisheries management, child protection and laying the groundwork for a natural gas pipeline down the Alaska Highway to the Lower 48.

He cited a list of transportation accomplishments -- extensive work along the Seward Highway, $345 million spent on Matanuska-Susitna Borough roads, expansion of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, work on the Dalton Highway, new ''fast'' ferries, and 150 new trail and recreation projects.

''If you measure improvements in time, the drive time to the Mat-Su Borough has been reduced by 20 minutes,'' he said.

''In dollars ... these improvements total about $840 million for highways and $290 million for the (airport). Measured by safety, these improvements are priceless.''

During a question-and-answer session after the speech, Knowles was asked about his plans after he leaves office Dec. 2. He said he and his wife, Susan, would move back to their home in Anchorage, when his term expires this December. He said he had not ruled out, or in, a run for another office.

Knowles warned that there was much more work to be done sorting out the subsistence argument and the state's budget crisis.

''If not for a handful of extremist senators, you and other voters would be approving a constitutional amendment protecting subsistence,'' he said. ''Solving subsistence is the single most important step we can take to close the urban-rural divide.''

Failing to get the subsistence question to the election ballot was his single greatest regret, Knowles said later.

He warned that the state must tackle the gap between falling revenues and cost of services.

''This is no time for platitudes like 'all we need to do is cut the budget and develop our resources,''' Knowles said. ''That won't get the budget balanced.''

The barb appeared to be aimed at Republican U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, who has been campaigning for governor against Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer on a platform that emphasizes resource development. Over the weekend, Murkowski outlined his proposal to build hundreds of miles of new railroads and highways into remote areas.

''Talk is cheap,'' Knowles said afterward, when asked about Murkowski's proposals. ''But doing it is another thing.''

The state has been closing highway maintenance stations to meet budget cuts and cracked emergency funds to keep open the Steese Highway, he said. The existing road system could use another $1 billion worth of work, he said.

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