Sullivan breaks with Republican senators to champion trails

lone figure in mountains
A hiker descends descends on a trail near Eklutna. (Andrew Holman)

Trail and cycling advocates are applauding Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan for being the first Republican to co-sponsor a bill that would provide billions of dollars to improve access and connect trail systems.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted Wednesday to roll the bill into the five-year surface transportation bill, also known as the highway bill.

“For all of us who love the great outdoors, this is a great opportunity to have more trails. for pedestrians, bikes,” he said Wednesday, speaking in the committee meeting in favor of the trails amendment. “This is something that’s very much looked upon favorably in my state.”

Diana Rhoades, community engagement director for the Anchorage Park Foundation, said the legislation creates a new source of funds that might be used to extend trails in Anchorage and around the state.

“That works really well for the Moose Loop, because we have these missing links,” she said. “But it also works really well for the Alaska Long Trail that we’ve been talking about, at the state legislative level, to build these missing connections in existing systems.”

RELATED: Alaska Senate approves funding for 500-mile hiking trail from Seward to Fairbanks

The stand-alone trails bill calls for $2.5 billion to be spent nationally, over five years. Sullivan was the only Republican co-sponsor until Sen. Lisa Murkowski added her name this week.

The amount was reduced to $1 billion before it was added to the highway bill. Sullivan said that was to overcome Republican objections.

Sullivan was still the only Republican to vote for the amendment in the Public Works Committee.

The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, cited the cost and said the highway bill already had enough money for trails.

With Sullivan joining all Democrats, the committee voted 11-9 to add the trail money to the transportation bill. The committee then passed the larger bill unanimously.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz