Testimony of Mayor Dianne M. Keller - City of Wasilla

Madame Chairman, and members of the Committee, my name is Dianne Keller. I am the Mayor of the City of Wasilla, one of the fastest growing cities in the fastest growing region of Alaska. The 2000 census shows that Wasilla has grown 35.7 percent since 1990 and 15% last year. This is more than double the statewide Alaska growth rate of 14 percent during the same decade. That growth rate is predicted to continue at least twenty years into the future. With that growth comes an unprecedented demand for basic services including roads and water and sewer, the provision and funding of which this Committee has direct oversight.

 

This unprecedented growth has also led to a major commuting phenomenon from Wasilla to Anchorage where many of the residents of Wasilla and the surrounding borough work. Approximately 38% of the Borough workforce commutes and this affects Wasilla greatly. Much of this workforce commutes directly through Wasilla twice a day. The growth and accompanying congestion is situated in Wasilla and the core area as well as north of Wasilla. These commuters have no choice but to commute directly through our city due to the current infrastructure that is in place today.

 

Madame Chairman, my message to you is simple. We need help and we need it quickly. I know that the State has its responsibilities under the highway trust fund formula, but it is clear that the State has its hands full. Wasilla is ground zero for traffic congestion and I would request that the Committee help the State and our local governments to solve this problem. Here is how I urge this committee to provide the necessary assistance:

 

1. Fully fund the Highway Trust Fund under the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act. This includes insuring that 5 year funding will be available for projects in our area.

 

2. Provide a fair formula for “small states” which have large needs even though they may have smaller populations.

 

3. Fund Construction of the Knik Arm Crossing.

 

4. Provide funding for some local projects, which will assist cities like Wasilla, Palmer and Houston. One such project is the transportation corridor that will allow traffic to travel around Wasilla with exits into the City of Wasilla. The transportation corridor should include road and railroad access that will allow all forms of transportation to travel through the Wasilla area more safely.

 

What This Means for Wasilla

 

No population in the State has a greater stake in passage of a five year Transportation Equity Act reauthorization than Wasilla. We can only have some hope to deal with our local traffic congestion if this bill passes and passed on time. If the Knik Arm Crossing is built, then an even greater congestion problem in and out of Wasilla may be avoided. Right now, every car which travels from to Anchorage to Fairbanks has no alternative except to commute directly through Wasilla. This local commuting provides unmanageable traffic congestion during the morning and afternoon rush hours. The stream of traffic is long and dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. Additionally, this makes it very hard for merchants to develop a well-managed economy because traffic becomes gridlocked and people want to avoid these areas. Employment had grown 73.6 percent in the area in the last decade. We need your assistance to help plan and manage this traffic today and into the future.

 

Madame Chairman, I have submitted for the record two projects which appear to be local projects, however they will assist with the regional transportation needs of the Mat-Su Valley. The first, Mack Road Drive construction and improvements will be the principal exit and approach from Wasilla to the Knik Arm bridge crossing. This project will also provide access to the newest major regional project, the City of Wasilla Multi-Use Sports Complex. The City is very proud of this project; it is a $14.7 million dollar project that was locally bonded. This complex will also be an emergency evacuation center for residents of the core area in case of a disaster. We have just begun the land clearing for this project and after completion Mack Road will open up a new access point to this project as well as creating a new access point to the Knik Arm bridge crossing. The Mack Road project has been nominated to the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STEP).

 

The other project the City of Wasilla has requested funding for is the upgrading of Lucille Street. This project is also a major road upgrade that will reduce the amount of traffic on the Parks highway and Main Street in Wasilla. I have discussed this project with the Mat-Su Borough and we all agree that we need more North-South road corridors for the public to use for daily commuting as well as for evacuation routes in case of emergencies like the Miller's Reach Fire in 1996. Again, it is critical that the Committee provide some mechanism for projects such as these be to be included in the Transportation Equity Act.

 

Madame Chairman, I do not want to take too much of this Committee's time. I know you have had a lot of witnesses. However, as a resident of the Mat-Su Valley and the Mayor of Wasilla, I want to thank you for taking the time to come to the Mat-Su valley to see our infrastructure needs in person. We believe that the future of South Central Alaska is critical to the future of our state and where the majority of growth will continue in the near and far future. Thanks again for holding this hearing and allowing me to make written and verbal testimony on the needs of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.