Between the lines: 8 ways the US Senate infrastructure bill sends money to Alaska

A blue ferry tied up at a dock o na cloudy day as seen from the bow
The 280-foot Hubbard is an Alaska Class Ferry that was tied up in Ketchikan in January. It was built for $60 million by Vigor Alaska and completed last year. It and its sister ship recently received new side doors at a cost of about $4.4 million. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

The U.S. Senate is working to pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill with big implications for Alaska. The bill doesn’t earmark money for a lot of specific projects, but if you read it — sometimes between the lines — you’ll find billions of dollars designed to benefit Alaska. 

Let’s count the ways:

1. Ferry Service for Rural Communities: $1 billion ($200 million per year for five years) to support essential ferry service for rural communities.

It’s not clear the Alaska Marine Highway would get all of the money, but look at the eligibility criteria: The ferry has to serve at least two rural areas that are at least 50 miles apart. That excludes most of the 200 ferry operators in the U.S. Most travel much shorter distances, often just a few miles or less than a mile.

This is a new program, the brainchild of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the bill’s negotiators.

2. Electric ferries: The bill has $250 million for a pilot project to buy ferries running on electricity or some other low carbon emission fuel. Alaska isn’t specified by name, but the bill says at least one grant must be “for a ferry service that serves the State with the largest number of Marine Highway System miles.”

No other state comes close. Alaska’s ferry system accounts for more than half of all the ferry-route miles in the United States. 

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3. Even more for ferries: The bill has $337 million to build ferry boats and terminals. Alaska’s share of that would be $73 million, says Murkowski’s office.

4. Highway money: Alaska would receive $3.5 billion to build, repair and maintain highways, plus $225 million for bridges and $370 million for transit. That’s spread out over five years and an increase of about 40% over current levels. 

5. The AlCan: The bill says the government can award competitive grants to rebuild portions of the highway through Canada that connects Alaska to the Lower 48. The sections that are eligible are from Beaver Creek to Haines. If the state wants to, it can spend some of its share of federal highway dollars on the Alaska Highway, without providing any matching funds, the bill says.

6. Broadband: The state would get, at minimum, $100 million to improve broadband internet coverage. Other funds are available for tribes for broadband projects. In addition, more than 25% of Alaskans would be eligible for a “connectivity benefit” to make broadband more affordable.

7. Water and sewer funds: More than $180 million would go to the state for clean water projects. Alaska tribes are eligible for a share of a separate $3.5 billion fund. 

8. The Denali Commission: The bill sends $75 million to the commission charged with improving Alaska’s infrastructure.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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