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Looming federal budget cuts could hit rural Alaska transportation projects hard

By Rhonda McBride 7:49 AM December 4, 2013

News has tribal leaders worried about the future of rural transportation

ANCHORAGE – So many transportation projects, not enough dollars.

This is not a new problem for the state. But the size of impending federal budget cuts will likely hit rural Alaska hard.

It’s news that has tribal leaders, attending a Bureau of Indian Affairs conference in Anchorage this week, worried about the future of projects that have been in the planning stages for years. Don Fancher, a state transportation planner for the Kuskokwim River region in Southwest Alaska, said the reauthorization of a MAT-21, a federal highway bill, could have a huge impact on rural transportation projects.

“Under the new transportation bill, there is no funding provided. In the past, this has equaled in the area to $90 to $100 million a year for the state of Alaska,” Fancher said.

For Arlene Franklin, a transportation planner for the Manokotak tribe in Bristol Bay, there’s a lot at stake. Roads projects create jobs, which can help offset a poor fishing season.

The tribe is also trying to build a road to a site for a gravel pit. The gravel would then be used to build a second road to the mouth of the Snake River, which would give the community closer access to fishing grounds and help fishermen save money on gas for their boats.

From broken boardwalks to airport runways threatened by erosion, Fancher hears about a lot of pressing needs in the course of his state job.

“For the money to dry up and go away is putting many of the hopes and long range transportation plans in a bit of a quandary,” he said.

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