A natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska or Prince William Sound is one of those projects that has been talked about for decades but has seen no physical progress.
There’s another of those “big dream” projects that doesn’t get nearly as much attention, yet could have enormous positive influence on Alaska’s future.
That project is a railroad connecting Alaska to Canada and, from there, to the Lower 48.
Once again, in the Alaska Legislature there’s a proposed resolution urging the federal government to move ahead with an Alaska-Canada rail project. Senate Joint Resolution 11, put forward by the Transportation Committee in the Republican-controlled Senate, begins by urging the issuance of a presidential permit, which is needed before a rail line can connect a U.S. state with a foreign nation.
The resolution goes on to point out several clear reasons for urging construction of the rail extension through the Yukon and into Alberta, Canada, and adds that the Legislature “welcomes the participation of global investors, state residents, Alaska Native corporations, state tribal entities and Indigenous peoples in Canada subject to each investor’s due diligence, to help develop a railroad connecting the state to Canada.”
And, of note for Alaska in these tight fiscal times here at home, the resolution points out that “the state would not be required to provide funding for a railroad project connecting Alberta, Canada, to the state. ... ”
The subject of an Alaska-Canada railroad is terribly familiar to the Legislature. It was in 2004, for example, that lawmakers approved a bill, signed into law by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, to plot an approximately 250-mile transportation corridor between the Alaska Railroad corridor and the Alaska-Canada border. The new also ordered the Alaska Railroad to investigate an additional extension of 1,200 miles to connect with the North American railroad system.
A year later, Gov. Murkowski proposed spending $50 million in state funds to study connecting Alaska and Canada by rail. Earlier that year he and the then-premier of the Yukon traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby U.S. officials about the railroad and the natural gas pipeline. Also that year, Alaska and Yukon officials signed an agreement for a yearlong study about the prospects for the railroad and established the Alaska-Canada Rail Advisory Committee.
The former governor wrote a column in February 2005 advocating strongly for the railroad and the benefits it could bring to Alaska. “Railroads complement enlightened conservation principles because they accommodate a smaller environmental footprint,” he wrote.
He went on to list the benefits of a rail link to Canada and the Lower 48, among them allowing cost-effective transportation of mineral concentrates and containerized freight and “connecting customers, clients and families from Cook Inlet to New York Harbor.”
He concluded by writing that “Alaska’s leaders of today have an obligation to be visionary for those who follow.”
The former governor was on the mark with those words from 14 years ago. We need visionaries today to bring about the advancement that Alaska needs.