DOT Reducing Operations

Chitina Maintenance Station, ADOT&PF Photo The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) will close or reduce operations at five maintenance stations beginning this month. The department also will cease maintenance at Circle Hot Springs Airport. These closures result from declining operating budgets that are affecting all state agencies due to the lack of a sustainable fiscal plan. Since 2015, ADOT&PF has realized a $60 million general fund reduction to its budget; a 22 percent decrease. This impacts the department’s ability to maintain and operate roads, airports and ferries. The following stations will be affected: O’Brien Creek Maintenance Station, on the Taylor Highway, closing; Chitina Maintenance Station, in Chitina, closing; Birch Lake Maintenance Station, on the Richardson Highway, closing; Central Maintenance Station, in Central, closing; and Thompson Pass Maintenance Station, on the Richardson Highway near Valdez, will become a seasonal station, open in the winter only. All roads will remain open, but it will take longer to plow snow and address ice conditions. Maintenance of the roads in the areas of the closed stations will become the responsibility of nearby stations. For example: When the Birch Lake station closes, the Delta Junction and Fairbanks stations will split the miles previously maintained by the Birch Lake station. In addition, the department will end winter maintenance at Circle Hot Springs Airport as a result of the closure of Central Maintenance Station. Aircraft will still be allowed to take off and land at Circle Hot Springs Airport with appropriate use of landing equipment, but the department will not be lighting or plowing the runway. Central Airport will remain lighted and plowed to service the communities of Central and Circle Hot Springs. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities oversees 249 airports, 11 ferries serving 35 communities, 5,619 miles of highway and 720 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska

Alaska’s governor reopened the highway maintenance station on the road to Chitina and will reopen a mothballed station 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks at Birch Lake sometime this month, according to a Tuesday announcement.

The stations were closed in 2016 due to budget cuts, and the state is using federal coronavirus relief money to reopen them for the duration of this winter and for next winter, according to an announcement from the office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The Chitina Station is at Mile 28 of the Edgerton Highway, a 33-mile road that follows the Copper River to Chitina and is named for U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Glen Edgar Edgerton, who served on the Alaska Road Commission. It reopened Monday, according to the governor’s office. The Birch Lake Station, located at Mile 307 of the Richardson Highway, will restart operations in the next two weeks.

“As I have always said, public safety remains the first priority of my administration,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement. “Alaska’s long dark winters call for proper plowing and sanding, especially on rural highways like the Edgerton and Richardson so we can keep the roads, and Alaskans, as safe as possible.”

Closure of the maintenance stations were part of a series of budget cuts that saved the state $3.2 million and eliminated 20 jobs, according to a 2016 story published by the Daily News-Miner. The closures were two among five that occurred during the administration of then-Gov. Bill Walker.

Maintenance of the roads in those areas became the responsibility of nearby stations. For example, the Delta Junction and Fairbanks stations split the miles previously maintained by the station at Birch Lake.

Both highway maintenance stations are located in Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop’s district. The Republican said in a prepared statement that he is grateful. Keeping roads safe is one of the primary responsibilities of state government, he said.

“Kids will get to school on safer roads, with fewer delays due to snow, mudslides or rockslides,” Bishop said. “The crackerjack team of state road crews in the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Northern Region now will have more resources to do even more outstanding work.”

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.