Mat-Su, state corporation envision road to mining and timber areas west of Susitna River

A state-owned corporation has agreed to partner with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to lay plans for an all-season road extending to the banks of the Susitna River. If built, the road could open hundreds of thousands of acres to development.

In the longer term, the borough envisions a bridge accessing territory west of the river, which holds timber, copper, coal and other resources that could be mined.

As much as a third of the 25,000-square-mile borough is west of the Susitna River, and local officials see transportation access as critical to development of the area. But no specific partner has been identified and the project’s timeline remains uncertain.

“We have been talking with a few different groups, that sort of thing, but they’ll be working with AIDEA (the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority) taking the lead,” Mat-Su Borough manager John Moosey said.

The borough estimates road permitting and construction to cost about $6.3 million. Last week the borough assembly voted to set aside $1.5 million from the borough’s land management permanent fund to pay for part of the project.

A borough document says the $1.5 million will be used “for grant match to cover the balance of project costs. If grant funds or other partnerships cannot be secured, these funds would simply go back to the Land Management Permanent Fund.”

The local government has planned the road since a 2014 study by the Alaska Department of Transportation examined prospects for crossing the Susitna River.


“The road to resources study was done under the Parnell administration, then there seemed to be no interest from the state, and now there seems to be,” Moosey said.

Discussing the project, AIDEA board members said it makes sense to start now, given the favorable attitude of Gov. Mike Dunleavy and President Donald Trump toward development.

But Moosey told the AIDEA board that construction of the road to the Susitna River is at least three years away. By phone afterward, he said it could be “three years away from three years,” depending on how permitting goes.

An effort to bridge the river would take longer still and there is no recent cost estimate.

In previous years, the borough has struggled to complete a series of large projects including a multimillion-dollar timber deal and a Cook Inlet ferry that racked up expenses in the millions but never went into service.

Talking to the AIDEA board, Moosey acknowledged the borough’s experience with the ferry.

“It was a good lesson for the Mat-Su Borough, and we want to make sure we never repeat that,” he said.

Tuesday’s agreement is expected to lead to a survey that will pick the road’s route. The survey will be focused on an east-west corridor south of Big Lake and north of Point MacKenzie, starting at the end of West Susitna Parkway.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.