Trail improvements and roadside projects would lose funding to road construction and maintenance under a bill passed in the Senate on Monday.
Senate Bill 71 by Sen. Ben Stevens, an Anchorage Republican, would decrease the amount of federal money going into the state's Trails and Recreational Access for Alaska program.
The money would be rolled back into highway construction and maintenance programs. The bill was approved by the Senate on a 11-7 party line vote, with Democrats voting no and Republicans voting yes. Sens. Bettye Davis, an Anchorage Democrat, and Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, were absent.
The TRAAK program now allocates up to 8 percent of federal highway dollars to trails, waysides and other projects, but it would be reduced to 4 percent under Stevens' proposal. The bill also would prevent municipalities from spending more than 10 percent of their federal highway dollars for transportation enhancements.
In 2003, the 8 percent accounted for about $28 million in projects, according Bob Laurie, a statewide planner with the Alaska Department of Transportation.
Stevens, however, noted in a sponsor statement that more than $150 million was allocated from the federal government for trail and roadside improvements between 1998 and 2003.
He said his plan "(G)ets a program back in line ... a program that has been hijacked, it's been overspent, and there's no accounting for it."
Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, said Stevens' bill would take away local control and micromanage a program that should be handled by communities.
"In looking at the TRAAK accomplishments over the last years we have a tremendous amount of good that has been done over that present formula," Lincoln said, noting trail markings, pathways and bridges, and the restoration of historic trails as a few achievements.
James King, executive director for the Juneau-based trails work group Trail Mix, said some roadside and trail projects could be left without funding if the bill also is passed by the House.
His main concern is that the bill would not allow municipalities or DOT to make their own decisions on how much to allocate for certain projects.
"Each municipality should be able to come up with their own priorities," King said. "It ties the hands of DOT and local municipalities, forcing them to put most of the money into roads and leaving a small piece of the pot into these trails."
Stevens' bill would shift the money to community transportation projects. That category includes most public roads, except for national and state highways, said Jeff Ottesen, state planning chief for DOT.
Stevens said the state has a $3.1 billion backlog of road projects in that category, compared to a $330 million backlog of TRAAK-funded projects.
"It's a 10-to-1 ratio," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.