Senator Murkowski, members of the committee, welcome to Alaska! For the record, my name is Beverly Masek, and I am currently the co-chair of the Alaska House Transportation Committee.
The opportunity to come before you today causes me to think about what is the mission of the U.S. Department of Transportation. In my mind it is to ensure a safe, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets the national interests, Alaska's statewide and local interests, and improves the quality of life of everyone.
Transportation in Alaska is very unique. As a former Iditarod Trail dog musher I can personally attest that in this year of 2003, modes of transportation here in Alaska remain primitive on the one extreme, to reasonably modern on the other.
From the west coast of Nome to the interior city of Fairbanks, the primary transportation link is by either boat, 4 wheeler or walking in the summer, to snow machines and sled dogs in the winter, or in the modern sense, by aircraft. No road exists.
From the north slope community of Deadhorse to the Southcentral community of Homer, the road transportation system consists of gravel highways to two lane roads to a modern four lane stretch of highway. Each is unique in both form and structure.
In Southeast Alaska, the marine highway system serves as the primary mode of transportation that connects each community, including the capital city of Juneau.
The primary method that brings everything together is airports. Air service provides the vital link to most communities in Alaska.
What can the US Department of Transportation do to help Alaska build and grow? There is no question that federal funding for transportation projects and infrastructure development is vital to the growth of this state. Specifically, the Knik Arm crossing, connecting Anchorage with the Mat-su valley via a new highway and rail link, is by far the most costly, yet the most important project that can and should be completed. Anchorage, being bordered by mountains to the south, east and north, and bordered by cook inlet to the west, has pretty much grown to capacity. Not only will this crossing reduce the transit time into Anchorage, it will open the vast acreages of the western peninsula to both business and residential development. This link is vital to the future growth of Southcentral Alaska and I would encourage any avenue for funding available be pursued to make this great endeavor a reality.
In western Alaska, community access roads would be a big step forward in starting to connect our remote communities. Later on, these communities could hopefully be linked to the Alaska highway system. These new links will also enhance development of our vast resources, helping reduce dependence on Canadian and other foreign minerals and resources.
In Southeast Alaska, their economic survival depends upon a road link to the Cassia Highway via Bradfield Canal is critical. Also, a road link to our state capitol, via either the Taku Channel or Lynn Canal is vitally important to connect all Alaskans with their state government.
But lets not just focus on roads. The airport system in Alaska is crucial to our economic vitality, not just to provide important links between communities, but to provide job opportunities for Alaskans. For example, at Ted Steven's Anchorage International Airport, cargo tonnage is 4t" in the entire nation. This capacity can be increased substantially by alleviating all cargo transfer restrictions among the airlines utilizing the facility. This is a very high priority for us. It will also enable aviation carriers to bring America's imported commodities to other U.S. markets in a more timely manner, thus holding the line on costs of goods. We are working hard to create expanded opportunities for both U.S. and foreign cargo carriers. Enhancements to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport that will enable larger and more frequent landings are crucial to economic stability in Alaska.
As you consider reauthorization of TEA-21, at a minimum the Alaska exemptions and flexibility provisions must be preserved. If not for those exemptions, most of the needed transportation infrastructure in Alaska could never be built.
In closing, among your colleagues on the committee, the word rural will have different meanings, depending on where they are from. For example, if I lived in Vermont, and took state route 4a from Castleton to Rutland, I would consider that rural. In Alaska, when you think and understand rural, you think of how to hitch up the dog team, catch the next flight, or find fuel for your snow machine. It is a vastly different concept and with your understanding of this concept, will come the understanding that without continued and substantial federal funding and support, Alaska is inhibited in its ability to become a modern state by expanding and improving our transportation systems.
Thank you all very much for coming here to Alaska to listen to and understand the complexity of transportation needs and issues faced by all Alaskans.