Advocacy group Alaska Trails sent a letter to let Governor Bill Walker know that transportation funds are at risk. Last September, Alaska returned $2.6 million to the US Department of Transportation.
The Transportation Alternatives Program, or TAP, provides federal funding for smaller-scale transportation projects such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities.
Each year the federal government authorizes TAP funds for every state that must be obligated to local projects within four years. Projects funded through TAP require a 20 percent state or local match.
The Alaska Department of Transportation had to return the remainder of its 2013 TAP fund after failing to obligate all of the money before it expired in 2016.
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership releases a quarterly report on states’ progress in obligating TAP funds. Deputy director, Margo Pedroso said that Alaska’s lapsed TAP funding is a missed opportunity.
“These dollars that are allocated to Alaska Department of Transportation are, in essence, Alaska’s fair share of the gas tax that every resident pays as they get around,” Pedroso said. “And by letting those funds lapse and be returned to the federal government, Alaska dollars are now going and being distributed to other states.”
Alaska DOT spokesperson Jill Reese said that the 2013 TAP money was not obligated in time because there were not enough projects submitted from local stakeholders that were eligible for funding.
Alaska Trails Executive director Steve Cleary thinks the DOT could have done better outreach to find projects for TAP funding.
“The fact is, there was four years for this program to be implemented and run,” Cleary said. “And the DOT in my estimation waited too long to start it. So of course there are going to be hiccups and stumbling, but if they had taken advantage of more time, then they would have been able to solicit and recruit qualified applicants rather than just having to take the applications that came in.”
According to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, nearly $4 million of Alaska’s TAP funding from 2014 could be returned to the federal government if it is not obligated by September 2017.