Borough, municipal league want more community say over road projects

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Alaska Municipal League say state highway officials are trying to dilute local governments' influence on the design of state-funded construction projects.

In a letter to Joe Perkins, commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Mayor Rhonda Boyles said her borough wants more influence on projects.

''Local government approval is effectively being removed from DOT's process,'' she wrote. ''We serve the same constituents. We need to work together.''

Boyles also expressed concern about the Fairbanks area's share of road-building money.

Borough assembly expressed support for Boyles' position.

''If they think they are going to blunder on without local government or local citizen input, they are in for a rude awakening,'' said Assemblyman Guy Sattley.

Problems started about six years ago when the state stopped allocating money by region and started funding construction projects based on need.

''There really wasn't any competition before. The funds would just go to the regions,'' said Tom Brigham, DOT director of statewide planning.

Now projects are scored, ranked and placed on a statewide master list.

Boyles said the practice, which is being written into regulation, gives DOT staff too much clout with respect to which projects get funded.

In a her letter to Perkins, Boyles said that only one of the DOT decision-makers is from the northern region, which includes Fairbanks.

The Alaska Municipal League became concerned with DOT practices after the department began limiting how municipalities could tweak projects.

By law, the department is only bound to make changes to projects where the design conflicts with municipal plans and ordinances, said Michael Downing, DOT director of statewide design and engineering.

In practice, some municipalities were allowed changes beyond that scope, Downing said.

The department stopped that practice because it became too cumbersome. For example, Juneau tried to have sidewalks added to a project to resurface a road after it had been designed.

Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Kevin Ritchie said DOT's limits go too far.

''You can tell them things, and if they don't think it's valid, they can go ahead and build it anyway,'' he said.

DOT is working to respond to the concerns. The department wants to have its regulations completed by Jan. 1.

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