REPS. MERRICK AND RASMUSSEN SAY PORT OF ALASKA AND JUNEAU ACCESS ARE BEING IGNORED
Following the third public hearing on the Alaska Marine Highway System budget, other legislators are saying enough is enough to Rep. Louise Stutes, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. At a press availability, they and Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard said the state infrastructure needs are being ignored by the House Democrat-led leadership.
Hundreds of Alaskans, and some from Washington State, have testified in Stutes’ committee this week that they want the ferries to remain with either existing funding or more funding. One testifier said the proposed budget cuts were “political terrorism.” None has offered suggestions about how ferries could operate differently, such as having users pay for their own fares, rather than having the state pay for the fares of Alaskans and tourists.
Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage), and Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) said the state has other needs, and those are being dismissed by the Transportation Committee chairwoman as she fights for ferries for her district.
“While the House Transportation Committee sits through yet another session of testimony this afternoon on the Alaska Marine Highway System, the rest of our state’s transportation and infrastructure issues continue to be neglected,” said Rasmussen.
“While I understand the importance of the Marine Highway System and generally support efforts to continue ferry service in a cost-effective manner, there are other important issues that warrant our immediate consideration. Our state owns and operates 239 airports, including Ted Stevens International Airport. The Port of Alaska, which imports 3.5 million tons of food and goods Alaskans need annually, is crumbling and needs repairs. We have thousands of miles of highways and railroads that need to be maintained. These issues are critically important to our ability to grow Alaska’s economy and they’re being completely ignored. Rather than spending hours fixated on one government system, we should be focusing on the whole – investing our time and resources in modern infrastructure through projects like the Juneau Access Road – that could fundamentally revolutionize both the economies of Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state.”
The Port of Alaska is owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, but needs at least $2 billion in repairs to remain usable. Some have suggested it be transferred to the State of Alaska or to a state port authority, since the majority of Alaska’s goods come through that port. The docks will have to start closing due to corrosion within about nine years, and new docks will take at least eight years to build.
Merrick, who lives in Eagle River, spoke to the needs of the Juneau community, where she was born and raised. “I also believe that this is an opportunity to look for long-term, fiscally responsible solutions that will bolster tourism and industry in the region without forcing Alaskans to give up more of their Permanent Fund Dividends,” said Merrick.
“We need to think about investing in capital projects like the Juneau Access Road and maintenance to improve our state’s existing infrastructure and accessibility. Advancing these projects in Alaska creates jobs that our state desperately needs,” she said.
The Juneau Access Project was killed by former Gov. Bill Walker.
But Stutes, who represents Kodiak, Seldovia, and Cordova, is on a mission to fully fund the ferry system. Must Read Alaska learned that Stutes has sent a video crew onto the M/V LeConte to do a promotional video in support of the existing funding of the ferry, and the transportation needs of coastal communities. No word yet on how the video is being funded.