$5.6b Alaska DOT Road Construction Project Put on Hold

Alaska has a population of more than 730,000 people.

Source : Flickr, Alaska Bureau of Land Management

February 23, 2024

Author : Patty Allen

In the last survey that was conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2021, Alaska was graded “C-” across 12 infrastructural categories, with bridges and transit both receiving “B-”. 

Thus, it is safe to say that Alaskan infrastructure would benefit from regular funding from both federal and state authorities. But, it seems the Alaskan malady will not be alleviated anytime soon.

Alaska’s ambitious $5.6 billion State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), spanning highways, state ferries, and transportation projects through 2027, has hit a major roadblock with its rejection by the federal government. This setback jeopardizes the entire plan, potentially delaying critical infrastructure projects across the state.

The rejection of the STIP leaves state officials scrambling to revise and resubmit the plan by the end of the month to avoid losing federal funding. With over $100 million in construction projects already obligated for the upcoming summer, the Alaska Department of Transportation faces a race against time to secure approval and avoid disruptions to planned projects starting in April.

Alaska’s State Transportation Commissioner, Ryan Anderson, remains optimistic about resolving the issues with the plan under the tight deadline. The focus is on securing approval for an initial tranche of federal funding while addressing concerns raised by the Federal Highway Administration about specific projects in the plan. 

The rejected plan included approximately $5 billion in federal funds for various projects, requiring over $522 million in state and local matching funds over the next four years. However, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration identified significant errors and problems with numerous proposed projects, highlighting the need for substantial revisions.

Local transportation planning organizations in Anchorage and Fairbanks have expressed frustration over the lack of coordination from the state in developing the plan. In response, the state transportation department has committed to establishing a formal coordination policy to prevent such issues in the future.

The state DOT received a federal planning finding report from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which lists approximately two dozen projects ineligible for federal funding. Some important projects are stuck in limbo, including the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry overhauls and the Seward Highway Project.

The FHA’s findings pointed out critical gaps in the plan, particularly regarding how projects would be operated, maintained, and funded. 

Specific projects, such as the Elliott Highway rehabilitation project and the Haines Highway project, lacked essential details like construction timelines and readiness for advancement to the construction phase.

Alaska’s situation is further complicated because four-year state transportation plans are typically approved by October, marking the start of the federal fiscal year. While the state received a 180-day extension, the March 1 deadline for plan revisions looms large, and the consequences of missing it could be severe.

Alaskan lawmakers discussed two major problem points on why the federal funding has not been sanctioned: many people who worked on the STIP had no prior experience in it. Secondly, there was a lot of confusion pertaining to the timeline because the DOT tried a new method for collecting public input through an e-STIP, pushing back the timeline for submitting a comprehensive plan to the federal committee for approval.

This recent development highlights the challenges faced by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities in navigating federal requirements and securing vital funding for transportation projects. The clock is ticking as Alaska races to address the deficiencies in its transportation plan and salvage billions of dollars in federal grants for critical infrastructure projects.

Category : Department of Transportation Freeways and Highways

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