Committee on Environment and Public Works
Monday, April 14th, 2003
Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Needs
Jeffrey B. Staser
Thank you Senator Murkowski, for the opportunity to add my observations to your deliberations on transportation infrastructure in Alaska.
Nowhere is establishing an integrated transportation system more of a challenge than throughout the remote regions of Alaska with no access except by plane or boat. 223 of Alaska’s 227 remote communities are federally recognized tribes, representing some 20 separate Native American cultures. Many of these communities are over 1,000 miles from their state capitol, dispersed along 38% of the nation’s shoreline and over 20% of its total landmass. All face a major physical impediment to economic self-sufficiency—isolation.
Recognizing that isolation has retarded basic community development throughout Alaska since statehood, in 1999 the Denali Commission Act created a partnership among state and federal agencies to address the most persistent rural infrastructure problems. The Denali Commission seeks to implement its discrete goals through effective collaboration, and recognizes that private capital investment and lucrative jobs are attracted by competitive economic advantage. And everyone knows that such investment is rarely attracted to communities which lack access to the marketplace.
I urge the Committee to work with the Administration to bring national leadership into focus on Alaska’s transportation challenges and would encourage the Committee to consider how the Denali Commission might play a role in developing and implementing an effective overall state-federal combined strategy for transportation in Alaska.
Transportation is the tie that binds an economy together. A strong and efficient transportation system provides businesses with access to materials and markets, and provides people with access to goods, services, recreation, jobs and other people.
As most Members of this Committee know, Alaska’s communities have experienced severe economic distress as a result of job dislocation due to business closures and job layoffs in the timber and fishing sectors, and disincentives to development of Alaska’s world class mineral, oil and gas resources. Even the seasonal and lower paying tourism sector has been impacted by world and national events beyond anyone’s expectations. Quite simply, large groups of people, in some cases overnight, have found themselves out of work.
To address this dramatic downturn, the Governor and his cabinet, and the Denali Commission is working with federal agencies in an effort to help the most dramatically impacted communities get back on their economic feet.
The President and Governor Murkowski have charged all agencies to focus on coordinated efforts, greater accountability for results, more efficient delivery of services and more effective execution of budget priorities. I am happy to report that coordination between the Denali Commission and its many government, non-profit and private sector partners is working. However, a missing link to achieving adequate health care, lower energy costs, and access to jobs across Alaska remains the state’s challenges to developing an integrated transportation infrastructure.
Transportation is a strategic investment that is essential to strengthen Alaska and enable its people to become economically self-sufficient. I believe Alaska’s rural communities can attain real economic improvement with an integrated transportation system that moves people, goods, information and services safely and efficiently.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony. Your continued interest and first hand experience with Alaska’s unique challenges provides hope and encouragement to hundreds of the Nation’s most isolated communities.
Jeff B. Staser
510 ‘L’ Street, Suite 410
 Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks