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State budget deficit halts Kake Access project

 


The state is closing out the Kake Access road project and will be looking for other ways to improve access to the village.

Residents from Kake, Petersburg and the City of Kupreanof have criticized the project that would have linked Kake to Petersburg by way of road and ferry.

In September 2015 public comment documents from the Office of Federal Lands Highway (OFLH), some Kake residents supported the road for the employment opportunities the construction would offer Kake workers. Others criticized the project and said they’d rather have better ferry service.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly last month discussed a possible request to the legislature to reallocate the $40 million in funding to other projects within the region, but ultimately took no action out of fear the legislature would take the money altogether.

“Public comment was definitely considered,” Alaska Department of Transportation (ADOT) Public Information Officer Jeremy Woodrow said. “It wasn’t a 100 percent favorable project.”

In a letter from ADOT Commissioner Marc Luiken to Kake Mayor Christine Bitterman, he wrote the two main factors for closing out the project were lack of federal funding and the estimated $510,000 for maintaining the road and operating a ferry.

“DOT&PF has determined that it would not be prudent to proceed in light of the State’s current fiscal situation,” the letter states.

Woodrow said the costs would burden ADOT.

“Right now the department is having its operating funds scaled back and so adding additional costs, especially this much, would be a burden to the department that really couldn’t handle it in this financial picture,” Woodrow said.

Woodrow said the ADOT staff and officials couldn’t match up federal funding dollars used for transportation projects across Alaska with the Kake project.

“It’s kind of like pieces of a puzzle,” Woodrow said. “We start filling in those line items to try to fill up that entire amount. Kake Access, because of priority levels, didn’t fall within the fully funded realm of a project that would be built in the next four years because of funding availabilities. There were other projects across the state that had higher priorities to use up those federal funds.”

Other projects in Southeast Alaska that did meet ADOT’s priority include the Haines Highway reconstruction, replacing a bridge on the Klondike Highway, trestle replacements in Ketchikan and road improvements in Wrangell. There were hundreds of other projects across the state.

Woodrow said despite the Kake Access road project being closed-out, ADOT will still use what he estimates as $39.9 million in appropriations, leftover after planning expenses, to work on expanding access to Kake.

“The big highway with the ferries and the terminal on the other side of Wrangell Narrows, that we’re scaling back from,” Woodrow said. “While that idea is done with, the idea of improving access to Kake is not over with.”

Woodrow couldn’t comment on when and what a new project might look like.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss those because there’s nothing finite,” Woodrow said. “The department is looking at lots of different options of what’s the best way to use that remaining money and improve access to Kake.”

Petersburg Borough Vice Mayor Cindi Lagoudakis, a longtime critic of the project is still against such a project.

“I don’t see how continuing to spend money to analyze this project, as a transportation project, makes any sense whatsoever,” Lagoudakis said.

She argues the state should focus on expanding access to ferry service, a sentiment Kake residents echoed in their public comments to the Federal Highway staff.

“We are hurting because we don’t have ferry service…Fast ferries, how fast are they going to go by me?” one commenter stated according to OFLH documents.

In his letter, Luiken wrote the new project scoping effort would support the “transmission of low cost hydroelectric power…”

 

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