SE road projects drop off state's priority list

Petersburg, Sitka highway plans pushed back indefinitely

Posted: Friday, November 18, 2005

KETCHIKAN - A $4.8 million project to improve the road linking Petersburg to an Inter-Island Ferry Authority terminal on Mitkof Island is among the projects that have fallen out of the draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program document.

State transportation officials say the projects are no longer in the planning document because of funding issues, including the presence of large, federally "earmarked" projects such as the proposed Gravina Access and Knik Arm bridges.

Those earmarks now are under attack in Congress. Critics want the designations removed and the projects reviewed under usual planning procedures, weighed against other transportation needs.

The draft 2006-2008 statewide planning document contains about $1.7 billion in projects and programs. Federal funding accounts for about $1.4 billion of the total, with another $165 million coming from state general funds and $135 million in other money such as bonds and local matches.

The draft includes $299 million for the proposed Gravina Access project, a pair of bridges from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, which houses the community's airport.

Ketchikan hasn't formally "lost" any large projects that were included in the previous plan.

Sitka, however, has seen a $5.2 million project for its Sawmill Creek Road pushed back indefinitely.

Petersburg officials were not happy that the Mitkof Highway work was not included.

"So much for the promise that DOT would upgrade the roadway in conjunction with the construction of the new ferry terminal project," wrote Leo Lucza, Petersburg director of community development, to state Marine Transportation Advisory Board members.

The recently approved multiyear federal highway funding authorization bill authorizes federal earmark spending of $233 million for the Gravina bridges and $229 million for the Knik Arm bridge linking Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The estimated total cost of the bridges are estimated at $315 million and $600 million.

DOT spokesman John Manly said more issues than just the bridges were involved when decisions were made not to include some items in the planning document.

Some projects had been listed because it appeared Congress was going to continue increasing transportation funding at a particular rate, he said. Actual increases have been smaller.

Manly also said Congress is requiring larger percentages of federal funds to be used in specific ways.

The final Statewide Transportation Improvement Program document will be different from the draft version, Manly said.

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