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Stevens explains what's included in Highway Bill for Alaska


May 18, 2005

Tuesday the United States Senate passed H.R. 3, the Safe Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 (SAFETEA) or the Highway Bill.  The legislation includes significant provisions which effect Alaska including funds for the National Park Service roads, an increase in the funding for the Alaska-Canadian Highway as well as the Alaska Marine Highway System, and the Denali Commission.  The bill also includes the Surface Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2005 which includes items that pertain to Alaska.
Upon passage of the bill Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) stated "the Federal Government has undertaken the enormous task of building the transportation infrastructure in the Lower 48.  This trillion dollar investment provided the impetus for America's economic growth and facilitated our nation's interstate commerce."
 "Our state lacks the same infrastructure as the rest of the nation.  We have more than 365 million acres of land, representing 1/5th of the size of the United States; however, we have only 13,485 miles of roads!  This is just a fraction of the 3.5 million miles of paved road nationwide.  This bill will help build Alaska's roads and infrastructure," he further stated.
Stevens said Alaska shall now receive 3% of the funds available for National Park Service roads, approximately a 1% increase in funding from the current law.  The funds available for National Park Service roads nationally are $320 million for FY05 and $330 million for FY06 through FY09.  This equates to $9.6 million in FY05 and $9.9 million for FY06 through FY09 for Alaska. 
Alaska is home to 13 National Parks which cover more than 54 million acres.  This represents 61% of the total acreage in the entire National Park system in the United States.  Alaska has just 24.3 miles of paved road and 87.5 miles of unpaved roads in the National Park system in Alaska.  These roads stretch through Denali National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, Katmai National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. 
"Alaskans lack sufficient funding for roads to access our national parks.  Of the hundreds of million of dollars annually appropriated for national park system roads, Alaska has only received 2% of that funding, despite the fact that the majority of national parks are in Alaska!" said Stevens.  "Most of Alaska's parks are not accessible by road and do not have airports, severely restricting visitor access.  The national parks were created for public enjoyment, not only for those who can afford to charter a plane to visit them."
Senator Stevens submitted an amendment increasing the amount of funding that the Alaska-Canadian Highway receives.  Senator Lisa Murkowski initially secured $18.8 million for the Alaska-Canadian Highway.  Senator Stevens' amendment increases the annual funding to $30 million per year for FY05-FY09. 
Originally constructed in 1942 by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of our nation's defense in World War II, the Alaska-Canadian Highway has 1,488 miles of paved and unpaved roads that begin in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and end in Delta Junction, Alaska.  Per the treaty between the United States and Canada, the United States pays for construction of the highway while Canada pays for the operation and maintenance.
Senator Stevens was also able to secure $10.4 million for FY05, and $15 million for FY06-FY09, an increase in Alaska Marine Highway and Hawaii ferry capital project funds from the $10.4 million per year supported by Senator Murkowski in last year's Highway bill. 
Stevens also secured $5 million for the Denali Commission for FY06-FY09 in order to provide for docks and waterfront development. 
"The Denali Commission remains an important tool in building infrastructure in Alaska.   With one-half the coastline in the United States and an immense river and waterway system, Alaska is in desperate need of docks and waterfront development in order to help our rural communities survive and prosper," said the Senator.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which Senator Stevens chairs, has jurisdiction over the highway and hazardous material transportation safety programs administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA); the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within the Department of Transportation.  The Committee also has jurisdiction over rail, intermodel, and boating safety programs. 
The following are key aspects of that section of the bill:
Seat Belt Safety: A new program, the Occupant Protection Incentive Grants (Section 405) is a national program of $154 million annually which will be distributed to states that enact a new primary seat belt law or already have enacted a primary seat belt law. States that enact a primary seat belt law after December 31, 2002, would receive a one-time grant over the life of the bill equal to 500 percent of their fiscal year 2003 Section 402 grant.  The majority of this grant money may be used for highway safety construction purposes.
The Alaska State Legislature has not passed a primary seat belt law.  Prior to the adjournment of the of the regular session the primary seatbelt law, which had previously passed the Alaska State House of Representatives, was brought up under reconsideration.  The Alaska House adjourned its regular session before the bill could be voted on again.  If this law is enacted Alaska would stand to gain up to $3.9 million.  According to 2003 statistics an average of more than 39,000 Alaskans were involved in motor vehicle crashes every year and according to the Alaska Injury Prevention Center, more than $2.6 million in public funds is spent each year for unbuckled victims of motor vehicle crashes.  The 1995 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study "Safety Belt Use Laws: An Evaluation of Primary Enforcement and Other Provisions" showed that states with primary enforcement laws have significantly higher safety belt usage than states with secondary laws.
Impaired Driving: The bill reauthorizes the Impaired Driving Program at an average annual funding level of $132 million for Fiscal Years 2006-2009. States can qualify for a grant by enacting four out of the seven criteria in FY06 and FY07, and by enacting five out of the following seven criteria in FY08 and FY09.  States may choose from the following options: (1) impaired driving check points and saturation controls; (2) outreach to judges and prosecutors to improve prosecution of drunk driving cases; (3) creation of an information system for government use that tracks drunk driving arrests and convictions; (4) the reduction, for two years in a row, the percentage of fatally-injured drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent; (5) a program that returns fines from drunk drivers to local communities for use in comprehensive programs to prevent drunk driving; (6) enact a law that applies stronger sanctions against drunk drivers convicted of having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or higher; and (7) creation of specialized courts for handling only impaired driving cases. The 10 states with the highest rate of impaired driving fatalities will be eligible for an additional grant. 
In Alaska the percentage of alcohol related deaths and actual number of alcohol related deaths peaked in 1984 at 64% and 105 fatalities respectively.  Since then, the drunk driving deaths have shown a downward trend in both percentage and number as the total number of alcohol related fatalities was 35 and the percentage of all motor vehicle fatalities was 37% in 2003, which is slightly better than the national average of 40%.
Hazardous Materials Shipment:  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is responsible for administering hazardous materials transportation programs.  The bill improves safety and security associated with the transportation of hazardous materials by increasing the funding available for planning and training grants.  The bill authorizes $25 million in FY05, $29 million in FY06, and $30 million each for FY07 through FY09.  The bill also allows for training grants to train private sector employees who handle hazardous materials. 
Boating Safety and Sportfish Restoration: Title V reauthorizes the Recreational Boating Safety and Sport Fish Restoration programs, two of the Nation's most effective "user-pay, user-benefit" programs, which are permanently funded through the "Wallop-Breaux" trust fund, also known as the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund.  The reauthorizations will allow continued funding for activities that will improve boating safety, protect coastal wetlands, promote sport fish restoration, reduce water quality impacts from recreational vessels, and increase boating access.
In addition, the title renames the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund as the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and increases the federal match for boating safety grants to 3:1, and provides for more equitable annual distribution of the funds to the various programs by assigning each a percentage share of revenues deposited into the fund.  The Sport Fishing Restoration Account receives approximately $450 million annually, and the Boating Safety Account receives approximately $70 million annually.

Source of News:

U.S. Senator Ted Stevens
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