The Alaska Department of Transportation carried out its Inland Alaska Transportation Plan this week, visiting a handful of communities to get initial feedback and feedback from local residents on the improvements they want to see in the next 20 years.
The public meetings are the first of their kind since DOT released its plan update. According to the DOT, the Alaska Inland Transportation Plan is a “20-year regional multimodal transportation plan that will guide future public investment in transportation infrastructure in the Alaskan interior region.”
Renee Whitesell, planning manager for DOWL, a consulting firm on Alaska regional plans, said the last plans were completed in 2010.
“We’re trying to capture everything from that last plan and look 20 years into the future to identify problems, needs and potential projects,” Whitesell said. “We want to hear from communities about those concerns.”
Once DOT receives sufficient feedback, it will proceed to task force meetings with a focus on resiliency and emerging projects, followed by a draft plan update and further public meetings. A final plan is expected in the summer of 2024 after considering all the data and input from the community.
Whitesell said that process includes identifying funds available to address future projects.
“These types of plans and meetings tend to generate a wide range of opinions and we are dealing with a huge area with diverse needs, including communities that are outside of the main highway system,” Whitesell said.
Judy Chapman, DOT’s deputy planning director, said Alaska DOT will carry out transportation plans for all six regions of Alaska.
“We are looking at roads, airports, trails, trains, freight, highways and ships,” Chapman said. “At this point, we’re just looking for concepts of what people think is a problem.”
Chapman said the regional plans fall under the long-range plan required by the federal government.
DOT visited Healy on Tuesday, Fairbanks and Glennallen on Wednesday, Delta Junction on Thursday and plans to complete its road show tonight in Tok.
In Fairbanks, Chapman said Kinross Alaska’s haulage solution for transporting gold ore from the Manh Choh mine has been a major issue.
Kinross Alaska plans to use 90-foot long combination vehicles to transport gold ore beginning in late 2024 between Tetlin and Kinross Fort Knox near Fox. The State of Alaska has established an independent corridor analysis and advisory board to review the corridor, including the Kinross truck plan.
“It’s an issue that we’ll have to address in the plan,” Chapman said. “There are other items, like tourism and military convoys and airports.”
Healy residents were interested in the impacts of tourism, strengthening the Stampede Trail in the Denali Borough, and plans for the Alaska Long Trail, a proposed 500-mile trail between Seward and Fairbanks.
“There were some transit people there, so I think there is a need for some type of transit system that will come out in this plan,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the plan will consider whether various projects are feasible over 20 years. One project could include a highway between Tofty and Rampart, something Chapman said Rampart has sought federal funding to make a reality.
Glenallen’s flooding problems could be another issue, as the Glenn Highway is subject to flooding during years with high snow levels.
Airports are another matter, he said.
“We are looking closely at Gulkana airport…we are doing a design plan for the airport to look at things like a longer runway or a floating pond so they can be more of a hub,” Chapman said. “We’re also starting a study for a Denali airport, so we’re looking at all of the smaller airports in the Denali district.”
Chapman said DOT will document all residents’ suggestions, comments and feedback throughout the process.
“Right now it’s very early and it will take time,” Chapman said. “We want to get a lot of ideas and feedback in writing because that will help us frame the plan.”