Federal transportation allotments cut into state's road-building funds

Posted: Friday, August 05, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Most of the federal funding allotted to Alaska under the five-year transportation bill passed last week by Congress will come out of money from the state's regular road-building program, state transit officials said.

About 60 percent, or $597 million, of the $940 million earmarked for Alaska projects appears to be taken from the state's regular road-building program for repaving highways and widening streets, transportation officials said.

"The net effect to the core program is that it has actually shrunk in total dollars," said Jeff Ottesen, director of program development at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The federal transportation bill is filled with funding for construction projects in Alaska, such as $229 million for the Knik bridge and almost as much for a bridge in Ketchikan. Only California, Illinois and New York received more project money in the bill.

Alaska also received money for scores of smaller projects, including $1.5 million for dust mitigation in Bethel and $500,000 to pave Olympic Circle in Girdwood.

A sponsor of the bill, Alaska Rep. Don Young, had said he thought almost all of Alaska's earmarks would be added to the state's annual highway money.

But about $180 million of the money for the Knik bridge will be deducted from the funding the state gets for its highway program, as will $148 million of the money for the Ketchikan link to Gravina Island.

Ideally, the state would like its federal money to come with no strings attached, Ottesen said. On the other hand, he said, the department sought money in the bill for the Knik and Ketchikan bridges, and other projects on the earmark list.

Alaska was the only state to have its entire congressional delegation serve on the committee that negotiated the final bill. Its members vigorously defended the Alaska spending.

Young sponsored the bill and it was negotiated by a committee that included the state's two U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens. If approved by President Bush, the bill would approve spending of $286 billion nationally.

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