New road plan restores Sunny Point funding

Earmarks had pushed construction back to 2009; now bids to be advertised this fall

Posted: Friday, March 03, 2006

Juneau's new Sunny Point intersection and bus replacement projects will get full funding later this year, thanks to a redirection of federal dollars previously earmarked for two controversial bridges at Knik Arm and Gravina Island.

The full $21 million for the new Sunny Point interchange on North Egan Drive will be dedicated this year and the state can advertise bids for construction starting on Sept. 30, said David Hawes, a transportation planner for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Prior to the controversial earmarks, the state planned to spend $6 million on the Sunny Point project in 2006. After the earmarks were announced, the state pushed back construction until 2009.

"We're pleased to see that Sunny Point has moved back as a priority project," said Juneau mayor Bruce Botelho. He said it will reduce congestion at a "dangerous intersection."

A possible hitch in the new Sunny Point schedule: The state still needs to acquire some property on the west end of the former Kmart parking lot. If the state doesn't obtain the land, federal funding will not be available, Hawes said.

In addition, the state had erased the delays in replacing five Capital Transit buses until 2009, and eight paratransit buses serving disabled Juneau residents until 2007.

Both projects - costing $1.4 million and $416,000 respectively - will now go forward in 2006, according to the state's new three-year Statewide Transportation Plan, published Thursday.

Botelho said the two projects will allow the city to retire the oldest buses in its fleet - those that have logged 1 million miles or more.

Previous delays to the Juneau projects were due, in part, to multimillion-dollar earmarks for Anchorage's Knik Arm and Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridges, which deducted money from other Alaska roads projects.

After national controversy, Congress withdrew its earmark designations for the bridges, allowing the state to free up roughly $179 million in road funding over a five-year period, said state Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton in a prepared statement Thursday.

One of three Gravina earmarks - authorizing $48 million for earthwork and associated roads - was unaffected by Congress' decision, he said, citing a Federal Highway Administration letter that clarified that matter in late February.

A total of 180 projects across Alaska have either been moved up or added to the state's list of priority transportation projects in the new three-year transportation plan, Barton said.

The bridges weren't the only reason that local projects were delayed. Other causes included rising construction costs and an erosion of dollars from the federal Highway Trust Fund, Barton said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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