Transportation agency puts focus on rural projects

NOME — The state transportation department is gearing up for a busy summer season in parts of rural Alaska, with plans to build and improve airfields, roads and other infrastructure before federal funding becomes scarcer.

The vast majority of money for airports, roads and the marine highway system in Alaska comes from the federal government.

With a change in federal funding looming, including a nationwide shift toward city projects such as mass transit and bike paths, the department is working to bring roads and airstrips in rural Alaska up to date, KNOM reported. That can be a tall order in areas where a single-lane gravel road can cost up to $1 million a mile.

The department also is more aggressively pursuing rural projects this summer, in part because plans for larger projects did not materialize during the legislative session.

“This is a $240 million construction season for us,” said spokeswoman Meadow Bailey, with the transportation department office in charge of most rural Alaska projects. “We’re in over 20 communities across our region, and then we have over 60 projects in those communities, so it’s a really busy construction season for us.”

Plans include a $26.6 million runway extension at the Nome airport; road and airport work in places like Barrow, Kotzebue, Shishmaref and Emmonak; and an extensive new road project in Interior Alaska.

Bailey said the department is building about 18 miles of new road near Tanana, to provide more access to mining in the region.

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