Opinions

Alaska stands to benefit big with passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Alaska’s infrastructure and economy and highlights the strong work our congressional delegation has done to advocate for Alaska families, workers and communities.

Our diverse organizations keep Alaskans working by ensuring opportunities exist to develop our state’s natural resource industries, including oil, mining, timber, seafood, tourism, transportation and construction. Add up all the families and jobs we represent, and you’re looking at the heart and soul of Alaska’s economy.

We support passage of the bipartisan IIJA, and appreciate the work Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young have made to move it forward. It is important to note this piece of legislation funds physical infrastructure that keeps our state and country moving — it is separate from the much larger, more controversial $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill also pending in Congress through a process known as budget reconciliation. That bill must stand on its own merits and is not included in our advocacy efforts. The IIJA, however, is. Roads, bridges, passenger rail systems, transit systems, water and energy infrastructure, broadband, airports, and ports are on the list for planned improvements should the smaller, more narrowly tailored IIJA bill pass. Is there anyone in Alaska who doesn’t think we could use an injection of cash to improve the items on that list?

Think of the major infrastructure challenges faced by the state. The Port of Alaska is crumbling and in urgent need of major repair. Many rural communities still lack running water and sewer. In Alaska, 25% of the roads have been designated as in poor or mediocre condition. These realities cost all of us. Any Alaskan who has survived potholes and frost heaves during breakup can attest to the fact that our roads desperately need improvement.

What specifically is in the IIJA for Alaskans? If passed, it would provide a $350 billion investment in the nation’s roads and bridges, of which Alaska would receive more than $3.8 billion in long term funding over the next five years. The IIJA also includes a one-time spend of at least $225 million for repairing and rebuilding Alaska’s bridges. Think about how far those dollars could go in getting Alaska caught up on its deferred maintenance list. The bill also makes historic investments in broadband build-out for our state.

We, like many Alaskans, are wary of increased government spending. However, this physical infrastructure bill is paid for and makes new investments without raising taxes on American families or businesses.

Additionally, these dollars are designated for spending that will boost our economy with jobs, long-term economic development and advancing American competitiveness in energy and critical mineral development.

It gets better. The IIJA brings big new investment while also cutting job-killing red tape. Multiple provisions within the legislation reform the environmental review and permitting process, including what is known as “One Federal Decision.” The IIJA makes One Federal Decision, one of former President Trump’s executive orders, permanent. It holds federal agencies accountable and requires timelines and page limits on large environmental documents. It makes other reforms, like making the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council permanent. This is the group created to improve the timeliness, predictability and transparency of federal environmental reviews and authorization process for certain infrastructure projects. In today’s litigation-rich environment, such improvements offer welcome relief to builders, whose work is often delayed by lawsuits.

Economic growth will occur as our economy becomes more efficient, with new and improved infrastructure making it less costly for businesses to operate while making workers more productive. As business efficiency and worker productivity improve, so will wages.

In summary, we commend the Alaska delegation for their support of the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill and their efforts to advance it in Congress. Investing in Alaska’s infrastructure is critical to our economic recovery, prosperity and quality of life. The longer Congress delays passage of this critical bipartisan legislation, the more our roads, bridges, highways and energy infrastructure will suffer. The unacceptable result is higher costs for every Alaskan. Let’s not waste more time, but improve Alaska’s infrastructure now.

Alicia Siira serves as executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska. Rebecca Logan is the CEO of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. Marleanna Hall is executive director of Resource Development Council for Alaska. Kati Capozzi is president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber; Deantha Skibinski is executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. Renee Limoge Reeve is Vice President of Government and Community Relations at Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. Tessa Axelson is executive director of the Alaska Forest Association. Joe Michel is executive director of the Alaska Trucking Association.

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