Highway work may be delayed
A proposed amendment to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) would delay funding for several portions of the Haines Highway Improvements project, effectively postponing reconstruction of Mile 3.5 to 12.2 and the replacement of the Klehini River Bridge.
The nine-mile stretch of road and replacement of the bridge, known locally as the Steel Bridge, are scheduled for construction in 2014. The amendment would move funding for their construction into the “indefinite future,” said Haines Borough manager Mark Earnest.
The proposed amendment to the STIP, which designates federal funding for transportation projects in Alaska, would move $37 million in construction funding for Miles 3.5 to 12.2 and roughly $8.5 million for the Steel Bridge replacement to after federal fiscal year 2015.
“It could mean a million years from now. It could also be the day after. We just don’t know,” Earnest said.
A delay in the environmental assessment is the primary reason for the funding postponement of Mile 3.5 to 12.2.
“You have to obligate the funds by the end of the federal fiscal year... If the environmental assessment was completed as it was scheduled, they could have obligated the funds for that portion of the project. But since that was delayed, the (environmental assessment) request of finding of no significant impact is delayed until probably December,” he said.
Federal fiscal year 2013 ended Sept. 30.
Earnest said the postponed Steel Bridge funding is due to a reduction in Surface Transportation Program funding at the national level. “This change means that the projects are indefinitely postponed,” Earnest said.
DOT communication officer Jeremy Woodrow said he didn’t necessarily agree with Earnest’s use of the word “indefinitely.”
“That’s a scary word to throw around,” Woodrow said. “People tend to think of that as never.”
Woodrow said the next STIP amendment will reflect the next several federal fiscal years beyond 2015, and it is “highly likely” that construction funds for Mile 3.5 and 12.2 and the Steel Bridge will be reflected there.
“The STIP is an ever-evolving document... that constant evolution reflects how projects change over time. Sometimes a project might seem like it is ready, but there are all sorts of different things that can delay a project and stop it from getting funding,” Woodrow said.
Moving funds allows shovel-ready projects to go forward when other projects experience delays, he said.
“You are juggling so many different balls in the air that you need to bring them down at the right time and make sure everything can go forward... We have to keep this one in the air until it is ready to fall down,” Woodrow said.
On the bright side of the proposed amendment, construction funding for Mile 12.2 to 21 is increased by $10 million, from $17 to $27 million. Nearly $36 million also remains for Mile 21 to 25.3 construction, and bid advertising for that section will likely occur in 2014 with construction starting in 2015.
Mile 3.5 to 12.2 will be a design-ready, on-the-shelf project, in the meantime.
Earnest is drafting a letter to DOT opposing the amendment, referred to as Amendment 8, and advocating for timely funding of the project. The letter will likely come before the assembly for approval at its Oct. 22 meeting.