Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Murkowski has suggested long-range surface transportation planning that includes an expanded highway system.
One immediate response was: Where will the funding for this expanded transportation system be obtained? The proposal for an expanded transportation system and the question of funding such expansion are legitimate issues that need to be addressed.
The state of Alaska receives approximately $400 million per year in federal aid-for-highways funds. With the state matching funds, the amount available for highway projects amounts to approximately $440 million per year. The question is, where do we spend the highway funds? (It must be noted that none of the federal aid-to-highways funds can be used for maintenance activities. Virtually all must be used for new construction or reconstruction.)
There is a need for a long-range transportation plan that would identify the highways needed for resource development and other economic activities and then design and build those highways over a period of years. The Parks Highway took years to complete and consequently the costs were also spread over a number of years. The state has a long-range surface transportation plan but it speaks more to policies than to specific highways. That plan should be expanded to identify specific highway needs with respect to economic development.
At present, due to conditions in federal law, the emphasis within the Alaska Department of Transportation is to spend the money. It really doesn't matter which projects are designed and constructed as long as we use up all of the federal dollars. With a comprehensive plan that identifies specific highways that are needed, the funds available can be programmed such that there is never a need to scramble for projects near the close of the fiscal year when the federal "use-it-or-lose-it" mandate is put in play.
Frank Murkowski has a dream of an expanded highway system that would increase the economic viability of Alaska! That dream can and should be implemented through dedicated people who will plan and budget the available funds such that eventually Alaska may be economically self-sufficient.
Allington is a former director of statewide planning for Alaska DOT&PF. - Editor