An amendment by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to a federal defense spending bill will restore about $51 million to transportation construction and renovation projects across the state.
In February, Congress changed the federal highway funding formula, subtracting some "earmark" transportation money from regular formula funds. Earmarked money goes to specific projects, while formula funds can be spent on various transportation projects.
The state has received money for earmark projects and formula fund projects in the past. The new formula change siphoned some of the formula funds for earmark projects.
About 20 percent of the $315 million in transportation funding for Alaska projects was diverted from other transportation projects, requiring the state to spend $61 million in transportation dollars on earmark projects. In May, when the change was made public, U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told The Associated Press: "I think it was a total accident. ... They just wrote something wrong. I don't think it was intentional at all."
The amended defense spending bill creates $51 million in new transportation spending for the state in addition to the formula funds and earmarked funds.
The redirection of the money in February prompted the state DOT to postpone some formula fund projects such as adding a reversible center car lane on the Douglas Bridge and removing bicycle lanes. That portion of the bridge renovations would have cost about $2.6 million.
About $7.5 million was diverted from Southeast transportation projects, according to DOT project planner Andy Hughes.
State DOT planning chief Jeff Ottesen said Stevens restored about $51 million through a 2005 Department of Defense appropriations bill earlier this week.
Ottesen said the restored funding will not necessarily allow DOT to pick up where it left off with all of the projects.
"There has been a lot of change in the cost of projects," Ottesen said. "We're seeing projects come in high."
Ottesen said DOT would re-evaluate the projects originally slated for funding, but noted they likely will be at the top of the list for completion. He didn't know whether the funding for the Douglas Bridge project would be restored soon.
Ottesen said it still is unclear when Congress will pass a final six-year transportation spending bill. Lawmakers passed the fifth extension to the current spending bill last week, while it continues the debate over how much money to appropriate for future transportation projects.
The extension gives Congress the authority to obligate funds for federal highway program projects through Sept. 24.
"They're getting a little closer," Ottesen said. "The number offered by the House was $284 billion for the next six years. Some senators are saying that's not enough. They want $301 billion."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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