Parnell wants $10M to plan road to Tanana

36 MILES: Going all the way to Nome could cost nearly $3 billion.

Anchorage Daily NewsDecember 6, 2011 

Gov. Sean Parnell wants to spend $10 million to work toward building a road to the remote village of Tanana that's supposed to be the first link of an epic and hugely expensive road across the Interior to the coast at Nome.

Parnell has called the road to Nome a priority but the whole thing could have a price tag of nearly $3 billion. If the Legislature agrees to spend the $10 million on that first link to Tanana, it will be the biggest step the state has taken.

The road would begin as a branch off the Elliott Highway near Manley Hot Springs, about 160 miles west of Fairbanks. It would go from there to Tanana, a village of about 250 people located where the Yukon and Tanana Rivers meet.

Department of Transportation program manager Joe Buck said Tuesday it would require construction of about 36 miles of new road to get to Tanana. The $10 million Parnell will ask the Legislature to spend is for things like permitting and environmental work, figuring out what it would take to get a road to Tanana and how much it would cost.

"This proposed appropriation is the early seed money for it," Buck said,

The Legislature has already spent more than $3 million studying the idea of a 500-mile road to Nome, which is to be built in segments. The plan is for the road to roughly parallel the Yukon River from Tanana into the areas of Ruby, Nulato and Koyuk before veering toward Nome. It's not clear how the road would be financed, and construction would be years away. The Dowl engineering firm last year estimated the road could cost as much as $5.4 million a mile.

But the state transportation department has taken the project seriously enough to hold roughly 30 meetings in villages and cities across Alaska. The public reaction in the affected areas has been mixed and Tanana is no exception.

Donna Folger of Tanana, who was mayor for 14 years, said Tuesday she could see the benefits in bringing groceries and fuel into the village. But she worries it would also mean a lot of people passing through, changing its lifestyle.

"For most of us, I think, it's exciting to know they want to build a road here," she said. "But then again, we're worried about where we hunt and where we go berry picking and that kind of stuff. It's bad enough when we have people who come down the river during hunting season and some of us in the village don't even get to get a moose."

The Legislature has been supportive of the idea of building a road out to Nome. Lawmakers put a million dollars into it here and a million there, when asked by the governor. It helps that the state government is flush with money.

Parnell pushes the project as a way to give access for the villages and to open some of the country up to potential mining.

The road to Tanana is part of a $28 million "Roads to Resources" package Parnell proposed Tuesday. It also involves $4 million for a proposed road to the Ambler mining district in Northwest Alaska and $10 million for a road from the Dalton Highway to the North Slope settlement of Umiat, Both the projects are in their preliminary stages.

The mayor of Anaktuvuk Pass has opposed the 100-mile Umiat road, expressing concern about the impact on the caribou. The goal is to reach oil and gas reserves in the Brooks Range foothills and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The road proposed for the Ambler mining district would be about 200 miles and is meant to access mineral deposits, primarily copper. The road might run from the Dalton Highway or instead connect with Alaska's western coast.

The Department of Transportation is planning public meetings in the area over the next two months to discuss potential routes.

Reach Sean Cockerham at scockerham@adn.com or 257-4344.

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