Committee hears call for regional planning

A regional planning approach presented with a collective voice is what is needed to best secure funding and prioritize long-range transportation needs in Southcentral Alaska.

That was the consensus of various lawmakers and transportation officials at a state Senate Transportation Committee meeting Nov. 28 in Anchorage.

"There is a real opportunity to advance many projects if we work together,’’ said Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, chairman of the transportation committee.

Cowdery called the meeting to look at the transportation needs of Upper Cook Inlet and the Railbelt and to discuss the concept of a regional planning committee or a port authority.

Local, state and federal government agencies and entities most often plan road, rail, marine and airport projects independently and don’t take into account what affect they may have on other projects, Cowdery said. The projects also compete for funding.

Up to 35 percent of a project’s cost goes toward reports and studies, which often overlap with another project, Cowdery said.

A concerted planning effort would likely increase the chances for funding for large regional projects, Cowdery said.

"Each impacts the other in one way or another,’’ Cowdery told the crowd of 40 or so, filled with representatives from local governments, airlines, shippers and others.

The state is taking steps toward coordinating projects.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will hire a consultant sometime before the end of the year to begin studying the idea of a "regional transportation planning committee," said Rob Campbell, the department’s chief of preliminary design.

The study will cost about $250,000 and should be finished by next September, Campbell said.

A consultant has not yet been named, Campbell said.

Initially, an ad hoc committee would be formed of agencies and transportation groups in and around the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys, according to DOT’s request for proposals. The ad hoc committee and the consultant would, among other things, review about 31 transportation studies from the region.

Frank Dillon, executive vice president of the Alaska Truckers Association, said there was likely a huge disparity in the amount of money spent on studies compared to anything that had actually been done.

"There is a better way,’’ Dillon said, emphasizing the need for a focus on regional transportation planning, versus piecemeal. "We’re drowning in a morass of process ... there needs to be a measurable way to see what gets done.’’

Bill Sheffield, director of the Port of Anchorage and former governor, said he has had a part in at least a dozen of the transportation studies to be reviewed.

"We should have done this meeting 15 years ago,’’ Sheffield said. "We haven’t had any (regional) planning structure. ... There is money out there for projects, but we have to have a plan.’’

"A united front,’’ said Pat Gamble, president of the Alaska Railroad Corp., "is the only logical way to proceed.’’

Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys share a common economic future, said John Duffy, Matanuska-Susitna Borough manager.

Duffy said it was imperative to coordinate and prioritize transportation projects for the region and to seek funding from Alaska’s congressional delegation with a single collective request, instead of by many.

"We need to act now,’’ Duffy said.

Matt Rowley, Whittier city manager, said his community also should be included in the regional transportation plan.

12/09/2001 - 8:00pm