City files lawsuit over roads money

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005

ANCHORAGE - The city of Anchorage has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a state law that could dilute its control over federal dollars for roads.

At issue is a bill sponsored by state Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, that would add two nonvoting state legislators and two citizens, who could vote, to the five-member AMATS Policy Committee. The panel decides how to spend federal money for roads, pathways and anticongestion programs in Anchorage.

Mayor Mark Begich and two city assembly members now form a majority on the committee. The other two members are the state commissioners of environmental conservation and transportation, or people they designate.

Stevens has said the bill to add members to AMATS was intended to lead to greater cooperation between the Legislature and the committee by adding the legislative members. His initial proposal called for the legislators to be voting members of AMATS. By the time the measure was approved by both houses, the legislators had become advisory members.

Stevens also won adoption of another bill that limits the amount of federal road money AMATS can spend on "enhancements" to 10 percent. AMATS' policy has been to spend 15 percent on enhancements, including trails, sidewalks and landscaping. The city is challenging the second bill as well. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

If Begich does not cooperate with the change on the panel, the state Department of Transportation has warned it could give Anchorage's share of federal highway money away to other Alaska localities.

Anchorage annually gets more than $40 million in federal highway funds.

State transportation director Gordon Keith has said there is a July 1 deadline to have a reconfigured committee in place and to approve a spending plan. But Begich said federal law doesn't allow the Legislature, or the state, to unilaterally change the membership of the committee without agreement from local representatives.

Begich also has said federal money for Anchorage roads won't be going elsewhere. According to the mayor, another state law says that about 27 percent of the federal highway money must be spent in Anchorage.

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