Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: President signs historic infrastructure bill, funding improvements in Alaska

President Joe Biden signed the new $1.1 trillion federal infrastructure bill into law Monday, Nov. 15. The bill allocates billions of dollars for roads, bridges, ports, clean water and sanitation, and broadband, that will fund projects long needed, but deferred, for decades.

Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who played a leading role in fashioning the bill, expects among other things to see delayed improvements made in village safe water projects, and to allow the village “honeybucket” to be finally retired.

Murkowski, a Republican, joined a bipartisan group four Republican and five Democratoc U.S. Senators, in a joint message:

“When Congress puts America’s needs over politics, we make genuine progress. We were proud to work together on this historic investment in our nation’s core infrastructure to modernize roads and bridges, strengthen rail and transit systems, upgrade ports, expand broadband access, improve water systems, and increase the resiliency of the nation’s energy grid. It strengthens our economy without raising taxes or increasing inflation,” the statement said.

The group include Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA) in a joint statement:

While it’s still unclear just how or how fast the new federal money will roll out, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s economic development priorities like completion of the Alaska Railroad spur to Port Mackenzie now have a good chance. The rail spur is essentially half done.

A long-discussed, and delayed, rebuilding of the Port of Alaska in Anchorage may also be in the cards. The port has serious corrosion and other problems that could cause a collapse if there were even a moderate earthquake, thus endangering the main supply portal for food and vital supplies into Alaska.

The infrastructure bill mainly funds programs rather than projects, Murkowksi said in a briefing, which means Alaskans will have to apply for grants in competition with other states and cities.

However, the senator was able to craft criteria in many of the new or expanded programs so that applications from Alaska will fit in well, such as a new federal program to support “essential ferry service.”

Aside from rural safe water and sanitation, there are three areas in transportation that will affect Alaska in ways that can be seen. Funding for the state’s federal surface transportation program, by tradition mainly for highways, will grow 30 percent, for example.

Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has a long-established and transparent process to disburse this money, through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program which list projects with priorities and schedules. It’s likely this will be the main vehicle for funding expanded surface transportation.

In her briefing Murkowski also said $225 million is expected to be available in Alaska for repair and reconstruction of 140 bridges in the state that are considered deficient.

Another win for Alaska, she said, is a provision in the bill that money for operations and maintenance of the Alaska Marine Highway System can be paid with federal surface transportation funds for the first time, a major step for the ferry system that until now has been dependent mostly on state funds.

Also, $73 million dollars will be available for construction of new Alaska ferries.

The bill authorizes funding for reconstruction of the Shakwak Highway, the portion of the Alaska Highway from the Alaska border at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, to Haines Junction, also in the Yukon, and the Haines Cutoff Highway from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska.

This is in support of a U.S. agreement with Canada, and it will make driving on the Alaska Highway to Alaska from the Lower 48, as well as to Haines, easier and safer.

In broadband, each state will receive a minimum allocation but other broadband funds will be available in Alaska through tribal allocations.

By:  Tim Bradner
Source: Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman