With the state facing a nearly $4 billion budget deficit, Rep. Les Gara says it’s time for oil companies to start chipping in, starting with maintenance of the Dalton Highway.


Gara’s House Bill 144 proposes a fee for commercial traffic by oil and gas explorers. The bill was introduced during the 2015 legislative session but didn’t receive much traction. It was referred to the House Transportation Committee, but never received a hearing.


According to the Alaska Department of Transportation, the state spends around $25 million dollars per year on the maintenance and operation of the Dalton Highway, a 414-mile, mostly unpaved road to the North Slope. It’s the only road that grants access to the region.


Oil company traffic accounts for roughly 70 percent of the road’s use.


“This road was built for oil company use, the majority of the use is oil company use,” Gara said. “The state is paying to maintain the road for oil companies, the oil companies should chip in for the use of that road.”


Gara said he’s not proposing a toll on the road because he doesn’t intend to charge individual Alaskans for its use.


“You would find a fair way to apportion among the oil companies who use the road to have them compensate the state for all the money we’ve spent,” Gara explained.


Gara said he hasn’t spoken to oil companies about the proposal.


“I’ve heard the oil companies in committee so far resisting being part of any fiscal plan at all and that’s just of course everybody in this building is sending their people down to say they don’t want to help, they want somebody else to pay for the fiscal plan and I’m kind of tired of it,” said Gara, who added he’s hopeful his bill will get more attention this year. “We’ve asked the commissioner to look into doing this on his own so we don’t need a bill and actually frankly we asked him to do this last year. We sent him an email and we’re waiting for a response from him.”


A spokesperson with the Department of Transportation said Commissioner Mark Luiken was not available for an interview regarding Gara’s request, but provided this written statement from Luiken:


It is the responsibility of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to maintain all public highways across Alaska. The Dalton Highway is considered a public highway and the department will continue to maintain and operate the Dalton as directed and funded by the Legislature.