Common sense urged in using fed funds in area


Posted: Sunday, December 04, 2005

This holiday season isn’t just kids making wish lists and checking them twice. State politicians are getting into the spirit on behalf of Alaska’s transportation system.

Unlike how Santa divvies up his gifts, the recipients of newly freed-up federal transportation money have to be bad instead of good to get a reward — fresh blacktop, perhaps, or shiny new guardrails.

In budget finagling this year Congress caved to the chorus of protest against Alaska’s proposed “bridges to nowhere” and dropped a requirement that $450 million in federal funds be earmarked for bridges across Knik Arm and connecting Ketchikan to Gravina Island.

Although Don Young may be disappointed he lost Congress’ assurance that he’d get his Way, as the Knik bridge was to be named, that’s good news for the rest of the state.

The bridge projects are not without their merit — mainly they would open up new land for development. However, devoting the entire $450 million plus the matching funds and other money the state would have to pony up to only two projects in two areas means many pressing transportation needs across the rest of our vast state would be met with a lump of coal, instead of the work they require.

Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, it’s time for state lawmakers to make theirs. The Legislature will decide what is to become of the $450 million, with the governor making his suggestion, too. It still could go to the Ketchikan and Knik bridges, if lawmakers so choose.

Or they could decide to turn to the State Transportation Improvement Program, the prioritized list of Alaska’s transportation projects in need of funding. Projects from that list were passed over for funding when Congress decided to earmark the federal dollars for the bridges.

Lawmakers now have an opportunity to use that money to grant many communities their wishes for upgraded, safer roads.

The Kenai Peninsula has some projects on the STIP wish list.

· One is rebuilding Kalifornsky Beach Road from Bridge Access in Kenai to where it meets the Sterling Highway in Kasilof. The road needs the work. Don’t believe us? Take a drive out there. But check your studs and make sure you have good shocks.

The road’s crumbling, rutted and has virtually nonexistent shoulders. It already is seeing increased truck traffic with gas development projects on the lower peninsula, and traffic likely will increase when Kenai’s Wal-Mart opens.

· Skilak Lake Loop Road is another route in need of reconstruction. The area’s popular hunting, boating, hiking and camping opportunities draw increased traffic on this gravel road. When breakup hits, you about need a boat to get across the giant puddles that form on the way to the boat launch.

· Lower peninsula residents are hoping for upgrades to East End Road beyond McNeil Canyon, and the Sterling Highway between Anchor Point and Homer.

Our wish is that lawmakers from the peninsula and the rest of Alaska see that the state’s transportation needs are too varied and pressing to devote all the federal money available to new bridges that would only benefit two areas of the state.

Use your common sense, and then use the STIP, lawmakers. The list already has been made and checked with more research and consideration than even the most determined 10-year-old could muster.

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