UPDATED: Agreement made to save railroad
The Senate-House Conference Committee overseeing the transportation reauthorization has passed a final report for a 28-month highway bill that could not only save the Alaska Railroad Corp. but help the ferries and Tribal Transportation Program.
The railroad was a big concern, as the Senate-passed bill would have cut its annual federal funding from $36 million to about $6 million, which would cripple passenger service, capital projects and bond payment structures. Congressman Don Young made this a priority in his position on this conference committee.
“We have an agreement in place that is expected to net the Alaska Railroad $31 million in annual formula funds," said Young’s spokesman, Luke Miller.
“My priority from day one as a member of the conference committee has been Alaska,” Young said in a release. “The Senate-passed highway bill hung Alaskans out to dry and would have had drastic implications all across the State. Whether we’re talking about vital rail funding in the Interior, ferry funding in Southeast or Tribal Transportation funding in rural Alaska – the Senate-passed bill would have severely impacted Alaska.”
The retention of the majority of these annual funds came as a great relief to those at the railroad. ARRC President and CEO Chris Aadnesen has advocated legislature to keep the funds since the Senate bill passed earlier this year.
“A great deal of thanks goes to Congressman Young and Senators (Lisa) Murkowski and (Mark) Begich for their hard work to retain critical funding for the Alaska Railroad in the transportation bill,” Aadnesen said in a release. “We deeply appreciate their backing as well as the support we received from Alaskans from every corner of the state, our employees, and labor leaders from across the country. The fact that we had Don Young, who is such a great fighter for Alaska and the railroad, on the conference committee was absolutely invaluable. His long-term relationships with many of the House and Senate conference committee Members were critical to our success.”
Miller said the ferries will also benefit from guaranteed from the Highway Trust Fund. He said the guaranteed money is a definite advantage over going though the appropriations process every year.
“When it’s all said and done, this bill isn’t perfect, but I was able to dramatically improve the bill and restore funding to several crucial Alaska programs,” Young said.
Begich and Murkowski have also praised the resulting bill.
The House and Senate are both expected to vote on the final bill before the deadline on Saturday.
The full story will be in the July 8 issue of AJOC.