In the “Last Frontier,” transportation must be a shared effort
Last week, I flew North – way North – to Alaska and visited everywhere from Anchorage to the small fishing village of Unalakleet to Nome, where the Iditarod dogsled race finishes each year.
Everywhere I went, I witnessed the natural beauty of Alaska’s terrain, but I also saw how difficult traversing that terrain can be.
All states have unique transportation needs, of course. But because of its size, its geography, and its climate, Alaska’s needs are more unique than most. And that’s what I went to discuss: How the federal government can help Alaskans meet their local needs.
I spoke with local and tribal leaders about everything from arctic port improvements and tribal transportation issues, to civil aviation, which is crucial there because so many cities aren’t connected by roads or rails. (In Barrow, Alaska, for example, the high school football team has to fly in its opponents for every home game because there’s no other way to get there).
We made great progress on these local issues. But Alaskans also know – just like citizens of all states know – that local government can’t do it alone. Transportation is a partnership from the federal to the state to the local level.
In America, we’ve always built and bettered our transportation system in this way: by providing states with the resources and the policies they need to meet their local needs; through a combination of local ingenuity and national effort.
But lately, states and local governments haven’t seen the kind of certainty they need from the federal government. They don’t know how much funding they’ll receive for long-term projects or how long it will take to get those projects approved.
That’s why USDOT has put forward a bill that will affect – and benefit – the whole nation.
The GROW AMERICA Act would allow us to pursue new ways of speeding up project delivery, like streamlining the permitting process. It would boost funding for all transportation modes. Alaska, specifically, would see it transit funding increase by about $30 million a year.
Alaska’s junior senator, Mark Begich (who was also my tour guide on last week’s trip) has been a supporter of GROW AMERICA. And other members of Congress have come out in support of giving Alaskans – and all Americans – the resources we need to build roads, bridges, and railways.
But we still need more support in Congress. Which is why, over the next few months, I’ll be speaking directly to their boss. That would be you.
Before Congress’ term expires, you can expect me to take many more trips like the one I took to Alaska – trips across the country to talk about each community’s unique transportation needs, and how the federal government can help.