JUNEAU — Major transportation projects are being put on hold, or remain in limbo, as the state of Alaska deals with the fallout of declining oil prices and the changing priorities of a new administration.
But other projects, such as the recent $25 million Brotherhood Bridge replacement project in Juneau, continue to be paid for by a federal government fund that has been very friendly to Alaska over the years.
Figures compiled by The Associated Press show the total amount of money available to states from the Federal Highway Trust Fund has declined 3.5 percent during the five-year period ending in 2013, the latest year for which numbers were available. During that span, the amount of inflation-adjusted federal highway money dropped in all states but Alaska and New York.
Federal funding for Alaska’s highways and other projects has held steady in recent years.
For fiscal year 2013, Alaska received about $545 million from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, on par with the inflation-adjusted $542 million the state received in 2008. Overall, the state also saw about a 25 percent increase in total state and federal highway spending, once adjusted for inflation.
When all state and federal funding sources are tallied, including earmarks, the total transportation spending for Alaska in 2013 was about $990 million.
Over the years, members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have pushed to secure federal funding for transportation projects in Alaska, arguing the federal government should help pay for roads and bridges in this young state.
For now, the state’s budget situation won’t put securing federal funds at risk, although that could change.
Federally funded transportation projects generally require a match, anywhere in the range from 6 to 20 percent depending on the project, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.
New Gov. Bill Walker has put several big-ticket transportation projects on hold, including building a new road for the Ambler mining district.
Walker’s proposed capital budget for next year includes about $63 million to serve as a match for federal funds, Woodrow said.
Each year, the budget typically contains a lump sum for matches, and the department can apply it to whichever projects need it.
“If the state match were constrained, then a decision would have to be made by the Governor and/or Legislature as to which projects are priority,” Woodrow wrote in an email.
That hasn’t happened yet.
Woodrow said the state typically budgets for covering an extra 30 percent of funding, to be on the safe side.
The state has about $150 million left of roughly $1 billion in earmarks that began accumulating in 2005.
Woodrow said the projects with the most federal funding still on the table are the Knik Arm Crossing, which would help pay for a toll bridge connecting Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and a project to connect Ketchikan to its airport on a neighboring island.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin nixed the Ketchikan project, the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, but the state still has access to the money and is looking at other ways for residents to access the airport.