The Department of Transportation (DoT) was in Nome to discuss the Northwest Alaska Transportation plan in a public comment session on Monday.
Approximately fifteen community members attended the meeting at Old St. Joe’s to share their opinions on how to best implement the plan in the area. According to DoT documents, Nome is of interest to the department as a regional center of transportation for surrounding villages:
“The Nome airport is one of the more significant airports in the state, along with, in this area, Kotzebue, Barrow, and Deadhorse. Also, the Nome Port is a very prominent project right now…”
That’s Judy Chapman, Regional Planning Chief in DoT’s Fairbanks office. Chapman was one of a handful of DoT representatives listening to feedback on their proposal.
The Federal Highway Administration requires a statewide, long-range transportation plan. However, the sheer size of Alaska requires a regional approach. So, in this case, the regional Northwest Alaska transportation plan is broken down into two sub-plans: statewide aviation and regional transportation, which focuses on highways.
The Department laid out a full project needs list for Nome, including improving highways and roads as well as sidewalks and bridges. This includes proposals to construct a road from the “Nome-Council highway to Bluff” as well as “extending Steadman Street to the Nome Bypass Road” and widening sidewalks on Front Street. These projects would also involve paving about 20 miles of city streets and performing surface repairs on Nome highways along the way.
Chapman says that the transportation plan is moving forward on schedule. That means DoT should be able to proceed with an online open house in October.
“Well, the plan itself isn’t encountering any roadblocks, but (for) the projects that come out of the plan, the impediment will be funding. Not that there’s no funding – there is funding – it’s just, the state funding that we’ve got, or have access to, has dwindled, so matching funds is a bit of a challenge.”
The Regional Planning Chief says one thing that isn’t challenging is gaining community support for the Transportation Plan. She states that “People are generally very happy that somebody is there asking about issues that are critical to them, especially in the vain of bringing down their cost of living.”
Chapman says she believes there is a direct correlation between increasing travel accessibility and lowering the cost of living.
The Northwest Alaska Transportation Plan has ten steps in total and is currently on its sixth step, “regional charettes and develop draft plan.”
The DoT aims to finalize the plan and close-out by January 2020; then, construction on individual projects will be allowed to start.
Image at top: Bird’s eye view of Nome’s airport. Photo: Alaska Department of Transportation.