Commissioner's Message

Investing in infrastructure

AGC Winter Commissioner's Message

Department dedicated to supporting stable economy, keeping communities safe, moving goods

Alaska is a land of vast resources and limitless opportunity. Even in our current fiscal situation, this remains undeniably true. The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities considers it a great privilege to work alongside fellow Alaskans, partners in the consulting and contracting community, toward building and sustaining transportation infrastructure that will support and promote a stable economy. ADOT&PF recognizes that it impacts nearly every Alaskan, every day. Our desire is to make that impact as positive as we possibly can through the projects and service we deliver.

The recent passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act into law created a five-year, $305 billion authorization of federal funding for U.S. transportation projects. This provides needed financial stability and increases some federal funding apportionment to states.

The FAST Act is a good deal for state DOTs, especially in Alaska where we receive about $5 in federal funds for every dollar we contribute to the Federal Highway Trust Fund through our federal motor fuel tax. In 2016, the federal highway fund appropriation for Alaska was $503 million, a 5.6 percent increase from 2015. The FAST Act is scheduled for a 2 percent annual increase from FY 2017 to 2020.

The FAST Act removes much of the fiscal uncertainty state DOTs have experienced for the past decade when dealing with federal funding. By knowing the level of federal resources available for the next four years, we can plan with greater confidence and are better able to commit to a slate of projects across the state.

This past year ADOT&PF con-tracted $590 million in construction activities throughout Alaska and has received authority to proceed on 62 new construction projects statewide. This investment in Alaska’s economy employed hundreds of Alaskans in the construction and consulting industry.

As a result of this investment several projects are already making a difference for Alaska’s economy. Of note are the three railway grade separation projects on the Parks Highway. These projects at Montana Creek, Sunshine and Broad Pass significantly reduce travel time between Anchorage and Fairbanks for the movement of freight and increase safety for hazardous material shipping and school buses using this highway. Greenhouse gases are also reduced along this corridor as large diesel trucks spend less time traveling.

The Road to Tanana was com-pleted and opened this past summer. Built for about $300,000 per mile, this road will help the economy not only of the village of Tanana but likely most of the communities along the Yukon River by reducing the cost of goods and services delivered upstream and downstream.

On Kodiak, the department com-pleted the Kodiak Airport Runway Safety Area and the reconstruction of Pier 1 at the Kodiak port facility. Both projects improve access and safety for two modes of transportation that are critical to the economy of Kodiak Island.

ADOT&PF also completed the Alaska State Library and Archives Museum in Juneau. This beautiful $130 million structure will protect Alaska’s important historical artifacts and archives while providing a fascinating museum for visitors and Alaska residents alike.

Several projects are progressing to the construction phase in the coming years as a result of the certainty provided by the FAST Act. Projects of note that will likely go to construction in the next two to three years include Windy Corner on the Seward Highway, Seward Highway MP 65-90 (Girdwood to Turnagain), Sterling Highway MP 60-79, Seward Highway widening Dowling to Dimond, Haines Highway MP 2.5-12.5 and University Avenue in Fairbanks.

While federal capital funding now has greater certainty, state capital funding is much less assured without a workable fiscal plan. Many of the state-funded projects slated to move to construction in the next few years are currently on hold and waiting for the passage of a sustainable fiscal budget.

With continued fiscal uncertainty ADOT&PF’s operating budget has also been significantly affected. During the past two years the department has faced a $60 million general fund reduction to its operating budget. This is a 22 percent decrease since 2015, which significantly limits the services the department provides.

The department has done everything practical to keep budget reductions from affecting direct services. Over 96 percent of the department’s $218 million general fund budget goes to operating and maintaining roads, airports and ferries. The other 4 percent of funds support services such as accounting, auditing, IT and staff necessary to meet federal funding requirements.

As commissioner of Alaska’s transportation, one question I am frequently asked is, why not use some of the federal funds to plow roads or run ferries? Believe me, I wish we could, but maintenance and operations are not an allowable expense for federal funding. Every state in the nation agrees to the same provisions when accepting federal dollars. Federal funds may only be used to plan, design and construct state transportation infrastructure. Since Alaska must self-fund transportation maintenance and operations, ADOT&PF will continue to pursue as many efficiencies and new technologies as possible to offset budget reductions.

During these fiscally challenging times, ADOT&PF will strive to boost Alaska’s economy through the numerous federal- and state-funded projects that provide improved mobility, access and safety. The department is dedicated to helping move Alaska’s economy forward, keeping our communities safe and healthy, and to opening opportunities to access Alaska’s vast resources. The department’s mission to Keep Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure will endure.