Legislature’s capital budget impasse could delay Haines Highway project

Haines residents look at a map of the Haines Highway at a project information meeting in 2015. (Jillian Rogers)

A major Haines infrastructure project that is years in the making may have to wait a little longer.

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Construction on the Haines Highway improvement project was expected to begin this fall. But the Alaska Legislature’s failure to agree on a capital budget could delay this and more than 20 other transportation projects.

Without a state budget, the Alaska Department of Transportation can’t access millions of dollars in federal money for infrastructure developments.

Phase one of the Haines Highway construction, which deals with miles 3 through 12, is estimated to cost around $40 million. Federal highway funding should pay for 90 percent of the bill. But not until the state approves it’s about $4 million in matching funds. That’s part of the capital budget.

DOT spokeswoman Aurah Landau said the department anticipated advertising the project for construction bids in late July. It will have to put that off until a capital spending plan is passed.

Landau said the Federal Highway Administration fiscal year ends Sept. 30. If the capital budget is still in limbo at that time, it would cause a more serious delay.

The legislature passed an operating budget in June, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. It is meeting now in a special session focused on oil tax legislation.

The Haines Highway renovation isn’t the only DOT infrastructure project affected by the capital budget. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry Tustumena replacement is the highest-dollar item on the list. Road and bridge renovations from Ketchikan to Fairbanks are also affected.

The aim of the Haines Highway project is to improve the safety of the corridor connecting Haines and Canada. It will bring the road up to 55-mile-per-hour standards by widening shoulders and straightening curves.

Construction on the highway is expected to last several years. The total cost is around $100 million.

Emily Files is a reporter at KHNS in Haines.

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