Alaska in line for jump in highway spending

Posted: Tuesday, August 02, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage and Ketchikan will not be the only Alaska cities to see construction projects from a new federal highways bill.

Though bridges in those cities have garnered the most attention in the federal transportation bill passed last week, a change in the formula for calculating states' money will mean an increase of 30 percent for Alaska, Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens said Monday.

"We're going to see some significant infrastructure dollars coming into the state of Alaska over the next five to six years," Murkowski said.

The increase in formula funding within the six-year, $286 billion bill, and money for specific projects, make for a comprehensive transportation package, she said.

Some provisions the senators worked hard on, what they're calling the Denali Access System, were in rural areas.

"This is designed to be programs to help the connector roads between some of our smaller villages so that we can move the fish to market, so that we have some access and we can move, whether it's minerals, development, no matter what the activity is, so we can make some things happen out in the rural areas," Murkowski said.

Money for an inventory of rural roads will help Alaska get additional highway dollars based on the Bureau of Indian Affairs road system, Murkowski said.

Murkowski, Stevens and U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, were on the conference committee that negotiated the final version of the bill. Young chaired the committee.

"We had three shots at this," Stevens said. "We each carried different projects. Therefore we ended up with a substantial increase because of the synergy of having the three of us work on it."

Keith Ashdown, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, last week estimated the bill contains about $700 million for Alaska. For its size, he said, Alaska fares better than any other state.

Stevens defended money for two Alaska bridge projects criticized as wasteful - a $209.4 million provision for the planning, design and construction of a two-mile span from Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough across Knik Arm, and a two-bridge system linking Ketchikan with Gravina Island, the site of the city's airport.

The only place Anchorage can expand is across Knik Arm, he said.

"I remember when I was a young person in California when people accused the people in Washington of being wasteful in thinking of building a bridge called the Golden Gate Bridge, because no one lived in Marin County at the time," Stevens said.

In America's development, if people paying taxes at the time had considered such projects wasteful, there would have been no westward expansion, Stevens said.

"This bridge is essential to the expansion of this city, of Southcentral," Stevens said. "We have the inlet on two sides, the Forest Service on one side and the military on the other. The price of land in this area is outlandish."

The Ketchikan project has been criticized as a "bridge to nowhere" because so few people live on Gravina Island.

"It's a bridge to the airport," Stevens said. "I don't know what they're talking about."

Ketchikan is the southern entrance to Alaska, Stevens said.

"That island can become, and I believe it will become, an industrial base for Southeast Alaska," Stevens said. "There's no other place available within Forest Service land."

Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, consists of homes and businesses along one north-south road hemmed in on one side by mountains and by water on the other, Murkowski said. The flat land on Gravina is needed for expansion, she said.

"You have the opportunity to do something with some of the fledgling industries we're trying create down there," she said.

One is making Ketchikan a maritime center anchored by the Ketchikan shipyard.

"They're going to need some more land to do that," she said.

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