State proposes less for local roads

Sunny Point may be delayed but draft report gives road out a boost

Posted: Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Juneau and other Southeast Alaska towns could face delays for local road construction due to federal earmarks for other multimillion-dollar projects, according to a draft report from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities released Tuesday.

On the other hand, the draft report proposes a $35 million increase in its 2006 allocation for the proposed road linking Juneau to a ferry terminal south of Skagway. Previously, the department had planned to allocate $40 million to the Juneau Access Project in 2006.

Now, the department is proposing to spend $75 million in 2006 and $102 million in 2007, according to the 2006-2008 draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program list released Tuesday.

The proposed reduction in funding for local road projects "will disappoint many communities," said Mal Menzies, director of the department's Southeast regional office.

Menzies said Tuesday morning, before the report's publication, that the regional office is taking time this week to "question headquarters" about the proposed cuts in Southeast Alaska.

Phone calls to transportation officials late Tuesday for comments about specific provisions in the draft plan were not returned.

According to the transportation report, the cuts are the result of the anticipated 1,200 percent increase in federal earmarks. These include hundreds of millions for projects such as the Knik Arm bridge near Anchorage and the Gravina Island bridge next to Ketchikan.

The earmarks are a "mixed blessing," according to the transportation report. "Overall funding increased, but, for Alaska, flexible funds decreased."

At least four major Juneau road construction projects are likely to be harmed.

While construction of Juneau's Sunny Point overpasses was scheduled to begin next year, it now may be delayed until 2009. The $20 million project was designed to reduce the risk of car accidents and congestion on Egan Drive.

Other major projects to improve public safety - at Riverside Drive adjacent to Juneau's new high school, at Davis Avenue in Lemon Creek and the Cordova-Douglas Highway intersection - appear to have been eliminated from the 2006-2008 transportation plan.

City and school officials had hoped to complete the Riverside project before the new school opens in 2009.

"What is happening in Juneau I anticipate is going to be happening throughout the region," said state Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

"I think it is appropriate that Alaskans debate the issue," Elton said. "My understanding is that these earmarks are going to have their biggest impacts next year but residual impacts for following years. It could end up cutting projects by half," he said.

Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said she will have to discuss the state's proposed withdrawal of priority status for the Riverside Drive project with city engineers to "further gauge what it means," she said.

"With the new high school, there will be a (need) to enhance safety (because of) increased traffic on the road," Cowan said.

Federal legislation spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and passed by Congress in August resulted in about $1 billion in federal earmarks in Alaska for transportation.

"In this case, more is less. More money for controversial bridges means less money for long-needed local transportation improvements," said Emily Ferry, coordinator of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project.

With the $50 million in funding cuts the state has already proposed this year to the core transportation budget, every proposed road project and ferry system improvement could be pushed back or eliminated, Ferry said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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