The Transportation Secretary promised to make building major infrastructure projects in Alaska easier after a two-day tour of the state.

Secretary Elaine Chao announced two things while she was here: that the Sterling Highway reroute project is one step closer to completion, and that Alaska will have more control over the environmental review process, which will make it easier for the state to get things done without going through the federal government.

Wednesday, Secretary Chao toured the North Slope with Senator Lisa Murkowski. Thursday, she toured some of Alaska’s key transportation hubs with Senator Dan Sullivan and four key Administrators: Federal Highways, Pipelines, Railways and Aviation.

The Secretary said the goal was to make it easier for Alaskans to get around the state.

“Providing for critical infrastructure in Alaska requires the combination of funding and predictable and timely permitting decisions by the federal government,” she said.

Secretary Chao said a 40-year-old project is now finally on its way to completion, thanks to a new partnership between the state and the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now agreeing to a decade, plus requesting a land exchange with Cook Inlet Region Inc. to start the Sterling Highway reroute that was tied up by federal regulations.

“We are one big step closer to moving ahead with this project," Chao said. "The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to keep working with the state of Alaska to remove barriers to strengthening safety, reliability and connectivity of Alaska's infrastructure.”

Secretary Chao said she heard of the challenges of building the project from Alaskans firsthand. Senator Sullivan said that while the state is rich in resources, we are poor in infrastructure. He said he hopes today’s summit does three things: streamline the federal permitting process and not study the issue at hand to death, lay the groundwork for a strong state and federal partnership, which changes the relationship between the two from enemies to partners.