More North Slope roads sought

| 12/7/2004

Alaska’s governor wants to use almost $10 million to fund preliminary work for new North Slope roads in hopes of spurring more oil and gas development.

Gov. Frank Murkowski, announcing his 2005 “aggressive energy agenda” at a Dec. 3 news conference in Anchorage, also said he would ask the Alaska Legislature in coming weeks to upgrade the Dalton Highway and give tax breaks to companies that explore for oil and gas in Bristol Bay.

Murkowski said he would propose a $20 million state roads package when the Legislature convenes its 2005 session in January. About $9 million would go to spreading a new layer of gravel and dust suppressant on sections of the Dalton Highway, roughly between mileposts 234 to 254 and 265 to 305. The road, which runs from north of Fairbanks through the Arctic to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, is notorious for its potholes and other hazards that rough up vehicles.

“It’s difficult to make a smooth surface when you have very large rocks,” Shannon McCarthy, DOT Northern Region spokeswoman, told local media. “If you’re a big rig, which is much of the traffic up there, it is really rough driving on big boulders.”

The governor’s proposal would pay for the repairs solely with state funds, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Most work on Alaska’s highways is funded by federal funds with a small state match.

Another $5 million would go for design work and environmental studies on the proposed Bullen Point Road, which would run 50-60 miles east from Prudhoe Bay toward Point Thompson. And $4 million would be used for preliminary work on the Foothills West Road, which would run about 75 miles to the west off the Dalton Highway around milepost 361.

The purpose of both roads is to spur interest in oil and gas development, Murkowski said, to help the economy and to increase the income from state leases.

Both roads are in the early stages of study. The funds would likely be enough to pay for studies on the roads but not to design and build them. According to the News-Miner, state officials hope to use federal or other funds to actually construct the roads.