Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Mat-Su Borough Assembly Chambers
Monday, April 14, 2003
On behalf of Governor Murkowski and I welcome to Alaska! Senator Murkowski (Chair) – welcome home! Thank you for taking your time to hear about Alaska’s transportation infrastructure needs.
In Alaska, the vast distances and rugged terrain mandate using multiple linked modes, including marine, air, and land transportation systems. Alaska is the largest state in the Union, comprising one-fifth of the total area of the contiguous United States, yet is has only 13,628 miles of roadways, less than the State of Vermont.
Only a few communities in our State have the variety of travel modes common to most communities in the nation. Nearly 90 percent of Alaska’s communities depend on aviation for year-round access. These non-roaded communities rely entirely on aviation for food, groceries, health care supplies, mail and transport to urban Alaska and elsewhere in our country.
We must continue building and upgrading our entire transportation infrastructure, including airports, marine highways, harbors, roads and railroad to provide services to Alaskans and our visitors. Improvements to transportation in Alaska should offer benefits including access to resources, work opportunities, lower costs, safety and consolidation of health and education services. These improvements are vital to our economic growth and security.
It is difficult to convey to those for whom Alaska is not home what it is like to rely on an airplane for a medevac in a remote community. My chief of staff has had the experience of waiting... and waiting... while a helicopter transporting a patient receiving CPR flew the shoreline for 45 minutes in blowing snow because the pilot could not see anything else. If the weather had been a little worse, the helicopter could not have made the trip. A road in that region would provide additional access between those communities. When the phone lines go down because of high winds, that reduces a remote community's options for delivery of health care - because not only will the community likely be out of reach of advanced medical advice, but the planes won't be flying either.
I was raised in this beautiful state – and in my professional life before becoming Lieutenant Governor practiced actively as a civil engineer. I have traveled extensively throughout Alaska and am quite familiar with our transportation needs.
At its core, our Administration’s primary mission is to build a robust, growing economy that contributes to our nation’s security, food and resource needs. We want good job opportunities, so families can care for their needs and our young people may stay in Alaska. To do so new and improved infrastructure is needed across our State. This includes the State acquiring historic transportation rights of way. This is something we have been actively pursuing for years.
Access improvements will bring many benefits to Alaskans, which most communities in the 48 contiguous states take for granted. Expanded access to and through Alaska’s communities, on a regional basis, will make a difference in the quality of life of Alaskans by improving access to health care and reducing the cost of living (groceries, power costs, building supplies). The economies of scale built through access will allow government investments in schools, bulk fuel farms, health clinics, airports and harbors to serve multiple communities.
In summary, thank you for your interest in Alaska’s transportation needs. Governor Murkowski and I look forward to working with you to resolve them. Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony and for taking your time to visit Alaska. It is my hope your experiences while here will help you understand the challenges Alaskans continue to face daily.