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Murkowski highlights how Alaska could benefit from infrastructure bill

Source: AP Photo / Andrew Harnik
Source: AP Photo / Andrew Harnik(KALB)
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:48 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Whether it be roads, waterways or airports, Alaska has some of the most unique infrastructure needs in the country. They are not cheap to maintain or build. In a recent announcement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski highlighted how the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could benefit the state.

There is a lot included in the some 2,700 pages of the bill. It calls for a lot of federal money to be spent improving all forms of infrastructure with $550 billion across the nation. It’s now headed to the U.S. Senate floor, according to Murkowski’s office.

“I’m proud of this historic funding and the significant impact it will have in Alaska,” Murkowski said in her announcement. “Whether it’s rebuilding existing infrastructure, driving innovative technology, or addressing the lack of basic infrastructure in rural communities, this bill will create economic opportunities and improve the lives of Alaskans across the state.”

There’s currently plenty of need for infrastructure funding across the state, including at the Port of Alaska where 85% of the state’s goods are imported to. Port Director Steve Ribuffo said they are trying to demolish and replace all the infrastructure at the port because of serious corrosion issues.

“The designs are not complete yet, so the estimates are kind of fuzzy at this time, but we wouldn’t be surprised to find out it’s somewhere between $700 million and a billion dollars,” Ribuffo said.

A part of the bill would put $2.25 billion into the Port Infrastructure Development Program, according to Murkowski’s announcement. That would be available to ports large and small in the state. There would also be $250 million for remote and subsistence harbor construction to build ports in rural areas.

Ribuffo said that would be a good thing because the cheapest way to transport goods is on the water.

“So there’s benefit to be had by smaller ports being able to improve their infrastructure just as much as us,” he said.

It’s no secret that the Alaska Marine Highway System has seen better days. Executive Director of the Southeast Conference Robert Venables echoed that in that part of the state, the marine highway is the highway for the people who live there.

“It’s at a point now where it’s a crossroads,” Venables said. “We got two new ferries, but rest of the fleet is very, very old. And in need of replacement, not just repair. A lot of money is going into repairs that should go into service.”

Murkowski’s announcement pointed out that $1 billion would go into a new program that establishes an essential ferry service to support rural communities that will provide funding to the AMHS. There would also be an additional $73 million for operating costs that would go to AMHS along with several other operators.

There are also a number of measures to improve sanitized water in rural communities. According to Department of Environmental Conservation Facilities Programs Manager Carrie Bohan, there are 31 unserved communities in rural Alaska. She clarified that a “served” community has 55% of the homes that are served with pipes for water and sewer, covered haul, or individual wells and septic systems.

She said that as of the most recent update with Indian Health Services along with other agencies helping with safe water in rural Alaska, the amount of funding necessary to fit the needs across the state is $1.8 billion.

The bill would provide $3.5 billion for Indian Health Services sanitation facilities nationwide, and more than $180 million over five years for water and wastewater projects in Alaska, according to the announcement.

There’s also a lot of proposed money for highway construction. The announcement says $3.5 billion would go to highway funding for Alaska over five years to construct, rebuild, and maintain roads. There’s another $225 million for Alaska to address bridges that are “structurally deficient.”

There are 141 bridges in Alaska that are listed as in poor condition, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Andy Mills, special assistant and legislative liaison for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said operations wouldn’t be a part of any money the department could receive, so it wouldn’t go toward snow plowing.

“So we would look to advance projects that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise in a short time frame, or to build additional infrastructure,” Mills said.

There’s a lot more in the bill. It includes money for broadband connectivity in rural areas, more money for aviation terminals and facilities, and for railroads, permitting, climate resilience, energy and natural resources, and then some.

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