Alaska is set to reap an infrastructure windfall. Let’s not waste it.

aerial, aerial photo, aerial photography, aerial photos, aerials, anchorage, downtown, downtown anchorage

When Julius Caesar — the original czar — took over Gaul, he and other emperors put in place, over the course of decades, straight roads and ports in order to help facilitate trade between the city of Rome and the greater Roman Empire, and indeed around the empire. This undoubtedly helped the empire and the city of Rome itself to become the economic juggernaut of its day.

Nowadays, without the benefit of monomaniacally driven economic czars to determine such infrastructure necessities, we wallow in the wind. So now, instead of a czar to look after the whole of our Alaska empire, we have politics, the vast majority of which, for Alaska’s purposes, concentrate around or cater to Anchorage, where the politicians tend to look over infrastructure dollars that only minimally help the rest of Alaska —and, in the end, only minimally help Anchorage itself as well.

Alaska is set to get roughly $4 billion in infrastructure money, which is probably a fair number, but mostly for roads. And not that some roads, bridges, water systems and such are not important, but a true cost/benefit analysis looking 10 to 20 years into the future would find the spending wanting. After all, Alaska does have straight roads, bridges and ports already in place to deal with most of the business of the state fairly adequately. Surely the most needed projects could have been done for less, leaving better options for the rest of the money.

If Caesar were in charge, he would immediately see the benefit of a northern and central Alaska natural gas and propane small-bore, roadside pipeline to bring cheap heat and peaking power energy to the larger land mass outside of Anchorage where possible manufacturing, mining and other ventures could more easily flourish. Such ventures would also help Anchorage to flourish, as then Anchorage would carry a lot of the engineering, back-office and exporting coordination to any northern or Interior Alaska business investment.

It is the difference between leveraging actual new business development versus leveraging a smoother ride for your visiting in-laws. It is like how the Roman Senate got vitriolic over the latest scandal in Rome, but could not see how the overarching economic strength of the empire was able to keep out the barbarians — that is, until the economic strength of the empire started to wane.

And if Anchorage wants more climate change mitigation, such as electric car charging stations, none of that will be possible without the variability compatible natural gas energy source to the Interior that can bring counter-cyclical, back-up energy for those “clean,” but highly vulnerable energy projects. It is clear that there is also a need for coal-based, base power and heat to back up those unpredictable and often vulnerable renewables. Even downtown Anchorage could use a combined heat and power coal system for backing up its energy sources.

Maybe if the federal infrastructure dollars were better coordinated by an economics czar, such a high-valued, relatively low-cost pipeline project would get done and even benefit air pollution reductions — not just in the Interior, but in a number of villages as well, which would further induce Alaska-wide, general economic growth.

Would such an economics czar make mistakes with spending such infrastructure money? Probably. There might be mistakes of millions of dollars rather than mistakes of billions of dollars. Just make sure to give the czar an economic incentive of, say, five cents on the dollar for every dollar gained in savings or every dollar gained in growth that occurs to Alaska after costs.

Doug Reynolds, Ph. D. (economics), has lived and worked in Fairbanks, Alaska and has studied Alaska’s and the world’s oil and gas industry for more than 25 years. He can be contacted at ffdbr@yahoo.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.