Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly Chamber, Palmer, Alaska

Hon. Jim Cooper

Mayor, City of Palmer, AK

Thank you, Madam Chair and Committee Members, for providing this opportunity for testimony on transportation infrastructure needs in Alaska. On behalf of the City of Palmer, I welcome you to our community and hope this hearing and your time in our community is fruitful and informative.


The City of Palmer is not a large community, but it is representative of so many communities in the United States that are experiencing growth and trying to meet the challenges of building and improving local transportation infrastructure. Palmer has the highest population density of mid-sized Alaska cities by a factor of two. Palmer is experiencing an annual growth rate of seven percent, and the capacity of our transportation infrastructure is not keeping up with that growth.


Palmer is served by the Glenn Highway from the north and south, the Old Glenn Highway from the east, and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway from the west. The Glenn Highway, a federal interstate highway, passes directly

through Palmer. All of these roads, including local Palmer city streets, have experienced tremendous increases in usage in recent years, and all of these roads are in need of capacity and safety improvements.


Traffic on the Glenn Highway south of Palmer has increased one hundred percent in ten years and has reached levels that suggest it be improved from its present two lanes to four lanes. Traffic on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway has increased fifty percent in ten years, creating the need for either a major capacity improvement or construction of another parallel route.


The need for these projects has been identified for some time. These projects and many others are listed in the State of Alaska's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, or STIR Yet years pass, traffic and congestion increases, and these projects are bumped back again and again in the STIP schedule, often due to an overall level of funding that is not sufficient to address transportation needs on a timely basis. We believe that the current level of federal highway funding is not adequate to meet the growing, and increasingly deferred transportation needs of our area.


As we plan for improvements to the Glenn Highway through Palmer, a federal interstate highway, there is a compelling need to design those improvements so they enhance, rather than divide our community. Also, the Glenn Highway has recently been designated as a National Scenic Byway. Because of this designation and to recognize the needs of our community, the City of Palmer, in cooperation with the State of Alaska, hopes to develop an urban boulevard design for the Glenn Highway through Palmer. This

approach will combine pedestrian facilities and landscape improvements with roadway capacity improvements so this project fits into our community.


In regards to local roads, Palmer has had several local projects listed in the STIR The City has worked with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to construct some of these projects. Our success in some of these projects has been due to a high level of local participation. The City believes some local projects can be done on a more timely, cost effective and efficient basis if project funds are transferred to the local municipality through a memorandum of agreement.


There are other important transportation elements that deserve continued attention and funding. The City of Palmer is involved in a project funded through a Federal Highway Administration Transportation and Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program grant to improve the Alaska Railroad right-of-way through Palmer. This Urban Revitalization project, made possible by a partnership of state and federal agencies and the Alaska Railroad, will construct pedestrian and bicycle pathways, parking areas, and other improvements to enhance alternate means of local transportation in our community. This is also a project which will be an important part of an area-wide system of trails connecting Sutton to the north, the Butte and Knik River areas to the east, and Wasilla and Big Lake to the west. To the south, the project will connect to a new park-and-ride facility soon to be constructed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer using Federal Transit Administration funds.


In summary, we stress the need for continued and increased levels of federal funding for transportation improvements in Alaska, and for the continuation of programs that allow close coordination of transportation improvement planning with the needs of local communities.


Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today, and thank you again for convening this hearing in our community.


Jim Cooper,
City of Palmer, Alaska