For Anchorage to Mat-Su commuter rail, a task force takes shape

Gov. Bill Walker wants a task force to look into commuter rail service between Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

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Walker signed an order Tuesday establishing a nine-member group that includes various public officials, including several mayors in the region and the commissioners of the departments of Transportation and Commerce. There are also two positions for members of the public with transportation experience yet to be filled.

The idea of providing rail service to Alaskans commuting between Anchorage and the Mat-Su has been around for decades. But the governor’s office says there are now roughly 50 thousand motorists driving on the Glenn Highway every day between Alaska’s largest city and bedroom communities to the north, and that number continues to rise.

Still, Alaska has seen declining revenue and shrinking state budgets in recent years, and other projects that were further along have been put on hold.

According to Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Marc Luiken, part of the task force’s job will be to examine how realistic it is to start a new state service.

“He wants them to look into this and look at the fiscal realities of generating something like this, and then make a recommendation as to whether they believe this is the right direction to go or not,” Luiken said. “He has heard enough from enough people that they believe this is something worth exploring.”

Current plans for a pilot project would use equipment that the Alaska Railroad already owns, Luiken said. At least initially, he said, the service would only be available from September or October to late April or May, when snow and ice make the highway more dangerous.

As for those open positions on the task force, members of the public can apply online at the Office of Boards and Commissions website.