Over the last 45 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, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was signed into law on December 4, 2015, is the first long term surface transportation bill in over a decade. Through my senior role on the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee I was able to steer more than $308 million for Alaska specific projects, established the Tribal Self-Governance Program within USDOT, reauthorized the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), and a 1% reduction in administrative fees by the Bureau of Indian Affairs / Federal Highway Administration. 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 is doing very well with the FAST Act, as programs are stood up and appropriately staffed, 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). The FAST Act provides $67 million annually for the Alaska Marine Highway System, Denali Commission receives 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. Twenty-one percent of our major roads are in poor or mediocre condition; less than 10 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 and wastewater infrastructure needs an investment of $972.1 million over the next 20 years (American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card 2017).
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. The House will take up an infrastructure package in the next year, which I will fight to include 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.
Through my senior position on the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, I have worked to ensure that our communities, which are dependent on air travel for their livelihoods, have access to safe and reliable transportation. Currently, the House is working on a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is sets policies and priorities for the nation’s aviation system, and creates jobs through infrastructure improvements. The current bill maintains funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) Program, provides clarification for Part 121 operators to fly under Visual Flight Rules, grants access to rural roads to hunting grounds and other parts of the community, and prohibits the sale of aviation infrastructure in the State of Alaska. I successfully fought to ensure that EAS is maintained in Alaska, because EAS is a vital lifeline that connects over 60 Alaskan communities.