Gov. Bill Walker is asking Southcentral Alaska leaders to convene a task force on linking Anchorage and the Mat-Su with a commuter rail system, a move which might alleviate dense traffic on the Glenn Highway.

An administrative order calling for a nine-member task force to study the potential service was announced by the governor’s office Tuesday afternoon. Walker looked forward to its final report expected by May, with traffic on the Glenn including an estimated 50,000 commuters per day.

“Anyone who drives on the Glenn Highway knows all too well that we need an alternative way to move between Alaska’s two largest population centers,” Walker said in the statement. “This new group will make sure our rail system is reaching its full potential.”

Austin Baird, Walker’s press secretary, said the governor’s comment didn’t indicate an explicit endorsement of a commuter rail project.

“The governor is in favor of exploring the possibility and letting the task force figure out if it’s an economically viable option,” Baird said.

Tuesday’s statement cited research from the Alaska Railroad, as well as other sources. A 2015 overview from the railroad addressing commuter rail possibilities noted the existing small train station at the Alaska State Fairgrounds, as well as its purchase of a building near the Parks and Palmer-Wasilla Highways which “could eventually become a new intermodal hub for bus and added daily rail service.”

The document also mentioned the largely unused rail depot at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, as well as trials of a self-propelled railroad car purchased jointly with the U.S. Forest Service in 2009.

“Similar fast and flexible transportation equipment is essential to successful daily rail service,” railroad officials wrote. “In order to expand passenger services, [the railroad] will need to procure additional rail equipment or limit additional service to winter.”

The task force’s nine members will include five mayors from Anchorage, Houston, Palmer, Wasilla and the Mat-Su Borough. A Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson representative will also be a member, as will the director of Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions and “two members of the public with expertise in transportation.” The state’s commerce and transportation commissioners will sit in on the task force as non-voting members.

Nobody on the task force will be paid, beyond per diem and travel expenses for members who aren’t serving in government. Walker’s proposed capital budget includes $4.5 million to study commuter rail, Baird said, but no expenditures will be made from those funds unless the task force recommends a pilot project.

Alaskans can apply for the public vacancies on the state’s website for boards and commissions.

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