A legislative panel would prioritize potential new state roads, including one from Juneau to Atlin, British Columbia, under a bill that cleared a House committee last week.
The measure, by Anchorage Republican Rep. Norman Rokeberg, would set up a task force to review a list of road projects for possible development or improvement. The panel would rank the roads by their feasibility and importance to the future economic development of the state and make recommendations to the Legislature next year.
The goal is to develop "pioneer roads," which Rokeberg defined as gravel roads "less than a full highway." He said pioneer roads qualify for federal funding and are potentially cheaper and faster to build than paved highways. He said they used to be common in the state.
"That's how we opened up Alaska. I think we need to look at that again and give some funding to those areas," said Rokeberg.
Under the current version of the bill, the task force would give special consideration to a couple dozen specific projects, including a road from Juneau to Atlin.
State officials have looked at the route in the past, but Canadian officials have opposed it. Atlin, about 90 miles north of Juneau, is linked by road to the Alaska Highway.
Although the task force could consider other projects, including a Lynn Canal road linking Juneau to Skagway, Rokeberg declined to add the project to the list, saying it wouldn't qualify as a pioneer road.
"That's not what I envisioned with this bill - that's a major policy decision and would require a fully improved highway," Rokeberg said. "I consider that a major project beyond the scope of the pioneer roads I envision."
The task force would have 11 voting members and include representatives from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Miners Association, the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Trucking Association and rural Alaska.
The bill passed out of the House Transportation Committee on Thursday. It now heads to the House Finance Committee.
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