Federal infrastructure dollars will fund an Alaska railroad bridge replacement, with more to come

railroad tracks through trees
Existing bridge over Little Goldstream Creek, built in 1925. (Alaska Railroad)

Federal infrastructure money is starting to flow into Alaska, following the historic $1.2 trillion bill Congress passed last November. One of the first grants is going to replace a 100-year-old railroad bridge on the route from Anchorage to Fairbanks. 

Brian Lindamood is the Alaska Railroad Corporation’s vice president of engineering. He said the grant is part of an ongoing effort to rehabilitate a third of the railroad’s 180 bridges.

“We normally replace, one, two, three [bridges] a year. But I think it’s accurate to say the easy ones have all been done. And now we’re starting to tackle the more difficult ones,” Lindamood said.

This particular 62-foot bridge crosses Little Goldstream Creek north of Nenana. Lindamood said its foundation is failing due to melting permafrost. The $3.1 million federal grant will cover half the replacement cost.

The railroad line between Anchorage and Fairbanks doesn’t just carry passengers. Lindamood said it’s an essential artery for making sure Fairbanks’ grocery stores are stocked and delivering industrial goods to the North Slope. 

The railroad gets a chunk of money from the federal government every year, but Lindamood said last year’s infrastructure bill opened up new opportunities to fund specific projects through competitive grants. 

“A lot of them are bridge projects that we’re sort of steering toward those competitive grant programs. We’re in the process of getting those ready to go so when the opportunity comes up, we’re ready,” he said.

Meanwhile the Alaska Department of Transportation is partnering with the Alaska Municipal League to help communities around Alaska go after similar grant funding through the federal infrastructure bill. The bill appropriated billions in discretionary grants to address clean water and energy, broadband and transportation needs. 

DOT and AML are providing grant writing and contracting support for communities looking to get in on infrastructure improvements.

Already, they have submitted applications to replace the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Tustumena and make improvements to docks in communities around Prince William Sound. 

“I think by next summer, we’re going to start to see a lot more innovative projects that have been brought through,” said DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy. “A little bit this summer, but by next summer, I think you’re gonna see a lot of changes.”

McCarthy said the grants will also help fund smaller projects that normally have a hard time competing for funding.

“A small sidewalk project in a town of 15,000 people, it just has a harder time showing the same economic benefits or safety improvement in terms of numbers as a sidewalk in Anchorage.”

More information on the types of grants available to Alaska communities can be found at akfederalfunding.org.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.