New Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz is outlining his priorities. Berkowitz recently told the Alaska Dispatch News that he’d like to funnel state funds tabbed for the Knik Arm Crossing into Port of Anchorage upgrades.
Berkowitz elaborated on that idea, saying directing public funds to places they need to go would make life easier for Alaskans.
“Right now, the port modernization has a greater priority in my mind than a potential Knik Crossing.”
Berkowitz says that at this time of state fiscal stress, it makes sense to use available funds to the greatest advantage
“Ideally, in a fiscally responsible world, where people are being careful with public monies, they wouldn’t spend money unless they absolutely needed to. The only project that I know of that is actually taking place on the Knik Arm right now, is the Port of Anchorage. So if you want to spend money to help develop the Knik Arm in any way, the Port of Anchorage ought to be your first port of call.”
He says the Knik Arm bridge is speculative, when the Port has proven economic benefit to the entire state. Berkowitz says he’ll pursue state funds for it.
“Absolutely, I am going to do everything I can to make sure we get that port taken care of. Port modernization will save consumers across the state money on a regular basis because it is going to keep the cost of goods and services down. It ‘s also has an important strategic advantage that Anchorage has, it has important applications for our industry and our military.”
But getting the Knik Arm funds switched to the Port may not be easy, or even possible. According to Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, the $45.3 million approved by the state for Knik bridge construction comes from a ‘federal authorization receipt’ .
“It could be used on the project if it moves forward with construction.”
That money is a pre-authorization of federal funds, and does not become real cash until construction begins. What’s more, it comes from federal highway funds
“And that actually cannot be used for ports, so it’s a different pot of money entirely. So for Knik Arm Crossing, the actually only money that could be used for the Port of Anchorage is the general fund amount, which is five million dollars, that’s been designate toward Knik Arm Crossing to date.”
He says the money in the state general fund would require legislative approval to be spent elsewhere. However, more federal highway funds are available for the Knik bridge.. $179.8 million dollars as of January of this year. But, he adds, spending it requires legislative approval. And that may be moot, since the Knik Crossing is still under an administrative order for review.
Mayor Berkowitz, however, has a vision for the Port of Anchorage. He says it’s the critical infrastructure that will shape the future of Alaska as the gateway to the Arctic.