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Rural Transportation Improvements Long Overdue
in Alaska Say Sen. Murkowski

March 06, 2004
Saturday - 1:00 am


U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Friday said that improving Alaska's rural road network is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Murkowski in a spirited letter to the Washington Post took exception to a letter from Taxpayers for Common Sense that earlier this week attacked her plan to authorize Alaska's Denali Commission to begin building transportation projects in rural areas. The Senator last month in the Senate version of its Highway Reauthorization bill won $30 million extra a year - $180 million over the next six years - to fund transportation work in rural areas of Alaska (S. 1072).

Murkowski was responding to a letter from the think tank that argued that the $180 million going to Alaska "to connect sparsely populated communities," was a waste since "many of these roads will be duplicative because these communities are already connected by an extensive ferry system."

"Obviously the writer has never tried to get to any of Alaska's nearly 200 rural villages that aren't connected by roads and are located no where near water. Right now, as Congress debates 'intelligent transportation systems' and considers upgrades to a sophisticated Interstate highway system already almost 50 years old, Alaska still has more than 200 communities that cannot be reached by even a dirt road, or - despite the 'taxpayers' assertion - by ferry.

"We are one-fifth the size of the Lower 48 States combined, yet - we have fewer road miles than the island of Puerto Rico. It's true we have twice the road miles of Rhode Island - the smallest of all States - but we are 540 times larger.

"The bottom line is this: This is the 21st Century and Alaska is still trying to get our transportation infrastructure into the 20th. Alaska's rural mothers - among the nation's poorest - should not be be forced further into poverty by paying nearly $5 for a gallon of fresh milk because it can only be delivered by airplane," said Senator Murkowski in her reply to the East Coast newspaper.

Noting that Alaska has only 13,628 miles of centerline roads in the entire state, Murkowski pointed out that the Denali Transportation proposal supported by Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Ted Stevens, was patterned after the Appalachian Commission, which since 1964 has been receiving extra federal funding yearly to upgrade roads to end that region's "geographical isolation," which Congress has called the reason for Appalachia's economic "developmental lag."

The Appalachia Commission is slated to receive about $590 million a year extra for road work under the terms of the Senate's $318 billion, six-year highway bill, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA) that is now pending House review. Other Southeast states also are proposed to receive additional funds to meet transportation gaps in the pending bill.

As of Friday, there was no word whether the Washington Post would print the Senator's reply.

Transcript of letter to Washington Post, March 2, 2004 from Erich W. Zimmermann, research analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, Washington.

"The Feb. 13 news story about Senate passage of the $318 billion transportation bill didn't mention the wasteful amendments added to the bill during the debate.

"Sens. Richard S. Shelby (R-Ala.) and Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska) alone added more than a half-billion dollars to the bill's cost.

"Mr. Shelby got $480 million for transportation development projects in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. These states already will receive an increase in federal transportation funding that is at least in line with the national average. Now, an additional half-billion dollars will be heaped on top.

"Ms. Murkowski secured $180 million toward road construction to connect sparely populated Alaskan communities. Many of these roads will be duplicative because these communities already are connected by an extensive ferry system. Alaska is the greatest windfall recipient of federal transportation funding, hauling in more than $5 in return for every $1 it contributes in gasoline taxes.

"The Senate transportation bill is too large, and the amendments added by Mr. Shelby and Ms. Murkowski make it worse. Congress is in the grips of a spending spree that must be stopped."

The following is the reply letter to the Washington Post from Senator Murkowski sent Friday.

"It was interesting to see that Taxpayers for Common Sense (March 2) singled out my proposal in the Highway Reauthorization bill to give Alaska $30 million a year to build roads to rural villages as a sign of a congressional spending spree.

"Right now, as Congress debates "intelligent transportation systems" and considers upgrades to a sophisticated Interstate system already almost 50 years old, Alaska still has more than 200 communities that cannot be reached by even a dirt road, or - despite "Taxpayers" assertion - by ferry.

"We are one-fifth the size of the Lower 48 states combined, yet - we have fewer road miles than the island of Puerto Rico. It's true we have twice the road miles of Rhode Island ­ the smallest of all States - but we are 540 times larger. The bottom line is this: this is the 21st Century, and Alaska is still trying to get our transportation infrastructure into the 20th. Alaska's rural mothers - among the nation's poorest - should not be forced further into poverty by paying nearly $5 for a gallon of fresh milk because it can only be delivered by airplane."


 

Source of News & Transcripts of Letters:

Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski
Web Site

 

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