Federal funding gets another look

PHOTO/Nancy Pounds/AJOC
This is the last year of the current six-year federal transportation program, and next year Congress will take up a reauthorization of the program for another six years.

Whether the next six-year plan is as generous to Alaska as the current plan, which brings $350 million to $400 million a year in funding for surface transportation projects to the state, remains to be seen, according to Jeff Ottesen, chief of statewide planning for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Lobbying of Congress by different states and interest groups has already started, he said. Groups like the national Associated General Contractors and the Association of State Highway Commissioners are making their views known, along with states and municipalities interested in more money for mass transit.

"We’re generally in a good position because of the seniority of our congressional delegation and Congressman Don Young’s position as chairman of the transportation committee in the U.S. House," Ottesen said.

Still, the fact that Alaska gets several times more in federal transportation money than it contributes in federal gasoline tax revenue makes the state a target for others.

Many states receive less federal funds than they contribute in gasoline taxes, he said.

Over the years the guidelines on use of federal surface transportation funds have been made more flexible. For example, 10 years ago federal funds could only be used on highway projects that were built to certain federal specifications. That meant federal funds could not be spent on narrower or unpaved rural roads.

Since then the program has been changed so that federal funds can be used for a wide variety of surface transportation needs, including rough rural roads, trails and even recreational amenities like scenic turnouts and bike paths.

That is all subject to change, however, when Congress does the periodic reauthorization.

Besides the money Alaska receives through the formula in the federal transportation program, Rep. Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, both Alaska Republicans, are able to secure additional funds for special projects. Alaska also receives money for airports, ports and harbors through other programs.

06/09/2002 - 8:00pm