An extraordinary event has taken place thanks to the hard work and perseverance of our entire Congressional delegation — the passage of bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which will have a profound effect on all segments of Alaska’s economy.
Since becoming a state in 1959, Alaska has been shortchanged in comparison to other states, which have had more than a century to build their infrastructure. Their highways, railroads, airports, waterways and bridges have resulted in a transportation access system which is the envy of the world. Unfortunately, Alaska was left out because we were simply a territory.
That was 62 years ago and during that time Alaskans never had the level of support from the federal government or the availability of state funding to catch up. Now, however, we have the opportunity before us.
Don Young is Alaska’s only member of the House of Representatives and deserves a good deal of credit for passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He has been highly effective working with Democrats and Republicans in making the case that in fairness, Alaska should be given the same opportunities as other states.
Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski have also been successful in persuading the Democratic-controlled Senate, as well as the White House, to support Alaska projects in the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
Don Young recently told me how he’d been successful in lobbying for Alaska’s interests in the infrastructure bill: “Well, there is only one of me, because I’m Alaska’s only member on the House side. But there are two Alaska senators. So, I simply have to work twice as hard to get things done for the state.”
He’s right. Look back briefly to 1973, when there was high-level opposition from environmental groups to passage of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act. The Senate vote was tied 49-49. Vice President Spiro Agnew broke the tie, and President Nixon shortly thereafter signed the bill into law. (It is interesting to note that then-Senator Biden voted “no” on that important vote for Alaska and continues today to be opposed to resource development on federal land in our state.)
Don and I happen to be about the same age and are both known to have strong views on what we believe are the best interests of folks in Alaska. The late Sen. Ted Stevens said it best: “Just do what’s right for Alaska.”
What’s right for Alaska now is to make the most of our delegation’s seniority while we have it. It is the surest path to protect Alaska during the Biden administration. Don Young is Dean of the House of Representatives and soon to be the fifth longest serving House member.
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Alaska is about to begin an exciting new chapter. We can begin to address our greatest needs — whether they be construction of pioneer roads to access our mineral resources, or geothermal sites for renewable energy, or adding new bridges to our ever-expanding road system, or updating the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system.
We now have the funds to construct the roads envisioned by the 2004 Southeast Transportation Plan. We can make harbor and dock improvements to access larger cruise ships. We can build the road extension to Cascade Point and the Juneau Access Road system to Skagway. We can evaluate the potential of Bradfield Canal Road connections from Ketchikan to the Canadian highway system.
We should look at the viability of Prince of Wales ferry connections to Wrangell and Mitkof Island. We could reconsider a bridge to Gravina Island or a tunnel, with components of it built at the Vigor Shipyard which is owned by AIDEA.
These and other priorities can only be realized by the continued effort of our delegation. To be successful, we must support them with the confidence that they will continue to use their seniority to meet the needs of Alaska. It is time for Alaskans to come together with our governor and legislature and prioritize our infrastructure projects.
The decision time is now. Our congressional delegation has the seniority, and they’ve proven their effectiveness. In short, we would be smart to keep that seniority.