Over the last 39 years, I have worked tirelessly to address the crucial infrastructure needs throughout our great state. Before being elected to public office, I saw firsthand the problems we had with a lack of infrastructure as a tug and barge operator along the Yukon River. But I could also see the potential economic development that communities and rural villages could achieve if they were given the resources to put ideas into action.
Transporting people and goods presents a significant challenge in Alaska. Efficient movement of cargo and people, using all modes of transportation, will be essential to solving transportation needs throughout the country and in Alaska.
As Arctic shipping routes begin to open up, Alaska will be on the main stage and should be seen as a vital link in transporting goods between America and the Far East. I see the potential for growth and a bright future for the State of Alaska.
The current surface transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, expired on September 30, 2009 and has been extended several times to allow for federal-aid highway and transit programs to continue. As the primary sponsor of the last highway bill, I remain committed to providing a robust investment in infrastructure to more efficiently move people and products domestically and internationally. We cannot compete in a global marketplace without the proper investment.
From a state perspective, Alaska did very well with SAFETEA-LU, and each time it is extended, we will continue to benefit. I understand that states cannot make long-term plans when Congress keeps passing short-term extensions but at the same time, Alaska’s apportionment formulas will continue to bring in more dollars than Alaskans put into the highway trust fund (HTF). SAFETEA-LU provided tens of millions of dollars for the Alaska Marine Highway System, Denali Commission received millions for rural transportation, and the other highway, transit, and bridge programs received robust funding levels.
There is much more work left to be done. Major investments in infrastructure are needed in Alaska. Forty-six percent of our major roads are in poor or mediocre condition; 35 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete; the ports, docks, and small boat harbors of Alaska are far behind; and our drinking water infrastructure needs an investment of $682 million over the next 20 years (American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card 2009).
From a national perspective, it is vitally important that we provide enough funding in the HTF to maintain a strong investment. The federal government cannot replace the responsibilities of the state and local governments, but can supplement their efforts. Work is underway to reauthorize the next surface transportation law, which includes funding for highway, bridge, transit, and research programs. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to ensure that a new surface transportation bill is passed.
Additionally, aviation is a critical component of Alaska’s transportation system, as 82% of Alaskan communities are not served by roads. The aviation system in Alaska links virtually all communities with economical and dependable year-round transportation both within Alaska and throughout the world. Aviation and Alaska have an interdependent relationship.
I have worked to ensure that our communities, which are dependant on air travel for their livelihoods, have access to safe and reliable transportation. Most recently, the House passed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011, which is sets policies and priorities for the nation’s aviation system, and creates jobs through infrastructure improvements. The bill phases out funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) Program, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. I successfully fought to ensure that EAS is maintained in Alaska, because EAS is a vital lifeline that connects 44 Alaskan communities.