Transportation infrastructure needs $7.5 billion in work

PHOTO/R.J. Kelly/The Homer News
Alaska’s highway system is in as good of shape as it has ever been, but more than $7.5 billion is needed in improvements and construction to bring the road system and state’s infrastructure up to "maturity,’’ said Joe Perkins, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Perkins said Alaska must continue upgrading its entire transportation infrastructure, including airports, marine highways, harbors and roads to compete economically with other states and countries.

"We must keep pushing projects,’’ Perkins told members of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Oct. 29. "Anchorage competes worldwide. ... If we don’t advance our infrastructure, we’re going to lose out to those that are efficient.’’

Perkins, who was appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles in 1995, said the state has invested nearly $3 billion during his tenure as commissioner.

Perkins gave updates to chamber members on the Seward, Glenn, Parks, Dalton and Alaska highways and other major projects in the state, including the $350 million upgrade and expansion at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. He said most of the road construction was completed and work at the terminal is about 40 percent done.

"We’re on budget; we don’t need any more money,’’ Perkins said of the Anchorage airport project. "It will be a wonderful facility that Anchorage is going to be proud of.’’

Perkins is continuing to push an initiative to speed construction of roads and highways across the state, using Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or GARVEE, notes.

In the last legislative session, Knowles proposed a bill that would allow the state to sell $425 million in the revenue-anticipation notes, but the measure failed in the Senate.

The bonds would allow the state to issue revenue obligations based on anticipated federal funds allotted for transportation construction. If approved by the Legislature, funds from GARVEE would be applied to statewide projects in addition to projects that have been identified on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, or STIP.

Perkins said federal funding under Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, so-called "TEA-21 money,’’ is up for debate in two years.

"It is going to be contentious,’’ Perkins said. "The importance to Alaska is unbelievable.’’

Perkins said that Alaska gets $6 for every dollar it contributes, about three times the next closest state, Wyoming, receives.

"We stick out like a sore thumb,’’ Perkins said of Alaska’s share of the federal program designed to fund transportation programs nationwide.

Alaska receives about $320 million annually from TEA-21, and Perkins said the funding will likely be safe, due largely to the state’s powerful all-Republican congressional delegation.

"As long as we have a strong delegation, we’ll do fairly well,’’ he said.

For his part, Perkins helped schedule an annual conference in Anchorage next October for the American Association of State Transportation Officials. The conference will allow Perkins to show other state transportation commissioners the unique transportation needs of Alaska.

Perkins is chairman of the association’s standing committee on highways, which helps establish design standards for the nation’s roads and bridges.

11/11/2001 - 8:00pm