Alaska editorial: Palin transition team's findings are unsettling

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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A Palin transition team of mostly Anchorage people reports trouble in Southeast Alaska. No doubt, a Southeast-concentrated team could find the same in the Southcentral region if asked.

The team says the Southeast Region of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is divided and, in some cases, lacks enthusiasm for a road project in Juneau and a bridge in Ketchikan, according to a story in the Feb. 6 Juneau Empire. DOT Southeast reportedly has low morale.

The reason stated: former-Gov. Frank Murkowski. He is accused of rushing the road project, which would link Juneau to Haines and Skagway via a road along Lynn Canal and a shuttle ferry. Murkowski did work up to the end of his term to move the project forward.

The former governor also moved ahead with Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge project.

The 12-member transition team compiled a six-inch report that states: "Statewide, these two projects are seen as a severe drain on resources that would otherwise be assigned to heavily used commercial and passenger routes."

Of course, they are expensive. But most capital projects of that nature are, wherever they are located.

Federal funds were earmarked for the projects. The team says it believes that the state suffers because those funds will be directed to Juneau and Ketchikan projects. On the contrary, not only those communities, but the state and its visitors benefit handsomely from the economic strength of any of its communities.

The team reached "near consensus" that the state's National Highway System roads, or those most traveled, be the top priorities for funds, which are earmarked for these projects.

It appears that Ketchikan's bridge qualifies for funding under the definition of the National Highway System in spite of what the team's report implies. The U.S. Department of Transportation Web site states that NHS arterials "are highways in rural and urban areas which provide access between an arterial and a major port, airport, public transportation facilities or other intermodal transportation facility." The bridge would link Ketchikan's main highway and its port to its airport.

Whether one is supportive or not of the road or the bridge, the transition team's conclusion is unsettling.

From the Southeast perspective, it sounds like a team of mostly Anchorage people came to the conclusion that the federal funds should not be directed to smaller communities and that they should be used in highly populated areas. Applying that train of thought, the big communities would get bigger and the small wouldn't be given the chance to grow.

Transportation infrastructure is critical to build and sustain an economy. The infrastructure requires ports, airports, and bus and ferry terminals, and necessitates bridges and roads to move goods and people.

There was a time when Southeast had the largest population in the state. Some argued that the region shouldn't be concerned with measures to help grow the fledging Southcentral and Interior regions, where Anchorage and Fairbanks are located.

But some Southeast leaders disagreed and supported the other regions.

Rightly, they believed Alaska to be a whole. It still is. Nothing is changed except, perhaps, attitudes in some parts of the state.

Southeast wants growth and vital economies for all regions. Southeast is glad to see capital projects in Southcentral and the Interior, and it would like those regions' support of its capital projects.

No one expects that all in government support every project that comes along; it isn't any surprise that all in the Southeast Region of DOT don't support these two projects.

They weren't the only ones interviewed by the transition team. The team also talked with engineering firms, construction contractors, trucking companies, transportation-related associations and the public. The projects are controversial, as are most large capital expenditures. It is expected to find division when discussing them, but the greater good prevails over dissenters.

In cases like this, leaders look through the shortsightedness and see growth potential for even the smaller regions and advance projects in the interest of a sustainable and growing economy for all Alaskans.

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