on the Future of Alaska's Transportation
February 26, 2009
"The Federal Highway Trust Fund ran out of money last fall," said AML President Denise Michels, Mayor of Nome, "Re-authorization of federal highway legislation may shift funding away from rural states and move toward greenhouse gas reduction, transit, and congestion relief in the country's major metropolitan areas."
Historically Alaska has received about 75-percent of its total transportation funding from federal sources.
"These factors will work against the interests of Alaska," said Michels.
In November 2008 the Alaska Municipal League identified long-term transportation funding as a top priority by passing AML Resolution #2009-12. This resolution urges the Governor and the Legislature to provide stable long-term funding to improve, upgrade, and expand every facet of Alaska's transportation infrastructure.
Building upon the resolution, AML partnered with the Mat-Su Borough, the Municipality of Anchorage and the Associated General Contractors of Alaska. The group hired the nationally-recognized transportation finance consulting firm Cambridge Systematics, Inc to study Alaska's current transportation funding trends and challenges.
After three months, the data gathered produced alarming numbers, multiple graphs and funding solutions that may help aid the Legislature with solving a future transportation crisis before it happens.
"Alaska ranks fourth lowest in the nation in state capital funding of transportation projects," said Christopher Wornum of Cambridge Systematics, Inc.
According to Cambridge Systematic's findings, Alaska's surface transportation, including the Alaska Marine Highway, is underfunded by about $720 million. Reasons such as the distance between communities, harsh environment and a relatively young roadway network all contribute to Alaska's transportation under investment.
"Alaska is 1/5 the size of the United States and our transportation needs are great both for rural and urban Alaska," said Michels.
Cambridge Systematics outlined several funding possibilities, based on what other states are currently doing, that Alaska may find useful. These included an Alaska Transportation Fund, use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) interest, and matching state funds with local contributions.
"We think this study contains important information useful to the Legislature when it begins to deal with the new challenges in highway funding," said Kathie Wasserman, AML Executive Director, "One of the challenges the Legislature will have is finding the right mix of funding sources to meet Alaska's transportation needs."
The Alaska Municipal League and its partners have not endorsed the findings and funding solutions outlined in the study.
"We realize that some of the funding options are more palatable than others", said Wasserman, "Neither the AML nor any other of the study sponsors has endorsed any of the specific options."
"The Alaska Municipal League realizes that a safe, reliable transportation system is crucial to Alaska's economic and social wellbeing. As a resource state, adequate highways, ports, harbors and airports are vital to the state's growth and its future," said Wasserman.
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