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The editorial was published as Voice of the Times opinion in the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday:
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has her priorities straight. The first bill she filed in her new job would provide up to $450 million a year over six years for construction of new roads, ports, docks and trails in Alaska.
The bill, co-sponsored by Ted Stevens, would channel the money through the Denali Commission, a state-federal agency patterned after the Appalachian Regional Commission, a road-building authority established to spur development in the nation's 13-state Appalachian area.
Funding for the new Alaska projects won't be automatic. The bill simply authorizes the construction projects and sets a dollar cap. Actually spending the money would require that it be written into the congressional appropriations bill each year. The funding would be for fiscal years 2004 (which begins Oct. 1) through 2009.
Members of the Denali Commission include Jeffrey Staser, federal co-chair; Gov. Frank Murkowski, state co-chair; and Commissioners Mano Frey, labor leader; Mark Hamilton, University of Alaska; Julie Kitka, Alaska Federation of Natives; Kevin Ritchie, Alaska Federation of Natives; and Richard Cattanach, Associated General Contractors of Alaska.
The commission would design and build the transportation facilities. Upon completion, the roads would become part of the national highway system, making them eligible for federal maintenance funding.
The transportation construction funding bill is similar to one introduced by Frank Murkowski in October, shortly before he was elected governor. The $450 million per year is the same amount allocated for the Appalachian Commission.
Lisa Murkowski said the money would be a cost-effective investment in Alaska growth. "Alaska's ability to develop a strong economy for the benefit of the state and the nation is deeply impaired by its lack of transportation," she noted. "This affects all aspects of life in Alaska from the delivery of fuel and essential services ... to our ability to develop Alaska's abundance of natural resources. Only our major cities have modern roadways and many of those remain isolated."
Prospects for the legislation seem good. The senator said the Alaska delegation received strong support for the measure when it was introduced last October.