Budget cuts close rural road maintenance stations

Under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget, five road maintenance stations in eastern Interior Alaska will close. Mid-month, state officials will be meeting with affected communities to share information, answer questions, and hear suggestions for potential solutions from the public.

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Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities maintenance stations handle everything from avalanche control and flooding to road signs and airport runways, as well as road maintenance. DOT has 79 maintenance stations statewide. Forty-two are in the northern region, where Public Information Officer Meadow Bailey works. She says when asked to make a six percent cut to its budget, the department had to look at closing stations, then decide which ones:

“We’ve cut staff and we’ve cut equipment and we have so many maintenance stations in kind of rural locations. We’re spread from Cordova to Prudhoe bay and most of western Alaska, so we have a lot of maintenance camps on the road system that are very geographically far from each other.”

She said the department chose those that were closer to other stations.

“We tried to pick the ones that would impact the fewest people and had other camps nearby that could pick up the plowing routes.”

Bailey said the department will do what it can to minimize impacts to road maintenance.

“We would continue to maintain all of these roads, none of the roads would be closing, but there would be a reduction in service, it would take longer to get through and plow and put down sand.”

DOT is holding public meetings in affected communities to discuss just how the closures would affect services and to get public feedback. The first meetings are in Northway and Tok on January 11, followed by meetings in Kenny Lake and Valdez on the 12th, . Salcha on the 14th and Central on the 15th.

Bailey says some of the early comments have been about the impact the loss of the 20 state jobs will have on local economies, as well as transportation.

“We’ve gotten some petitions and lots of comments from people in those communities about impacts of the jobs in the area and how important transportation is.”

A lot of these are more rural areas where transportation is difficult, especially in winter anyways, and so this is going to add to that and so they’re concerned about it and rightfully so.

The governor’s budget next goes to the Legislature, which will ultimately decide whether the stations close.