Taking an equitable approach to assessing Alaska’s infrastructure needs

In a few short months, Alaska will receive one of the biggest infusions of federal dollars ever experienced in its young history as a state. These funds come at a precarious time when the intersection between economic instability and public health uncertainty continues to wreak havoc on local communities. It will take all of us working together to ensure this money is spent wisely and fairly, shoring up our struggling marine highway, expanding broadband access and rebuilding our roads.

There’s a lot to do and little time to get all our ducks in a row so that no money is left on the proverbial table.

I am sure there are easily 100 “shovel-ready” projects vying for these dollars. There’s no question that most, if not all, of these federal monies could be spent in communities where transportation plans have already been completed. Yet, I urge caution. Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed an awakening of sorts — where many more of us recognize that historical injustices and systemic inequities have resulted in significant underinvestment in communities of color. When it comes to a holistic, equitable approach to assessing our state’s infrastructure needs, it’s the “shovel-worthy” projects in communities we’ve left behind that need our attention now, more than ever before.

Infrastructure means a system of structures and facilities that are critical for the successful function of a community or operation. No community could ever be successful without a secure and effective way to bring in and take out goods. According to a 2020 McDowell Group report, 90% of Alaskans rely on the Port of Alaska. Whether it’s bringing in or shipping out products, every Alaskan needs a functional, efficient and secure Port of Alaska. If we’re going to grow our economy and stabilize our communities, there’s no excuse for the Port’s continued vulnerability.

But infrastructure investment doesn’t end there.

A well-built port means nothing if the arterial roads around it are insufficient to handle the shipping traffic and economic activity that comes with its prosperity.

This is where equity comes into the equation. The critical transportation corridor that connects the Glenn and Seward Highways risks a lot of lives every day. Bicyclists lose their lives while trying to cross Third Avenue, Ingra Street or Gambell Street, while 18-wheelers barrel down pedestrian-heavy roads. In the midst of winter, inadequate sidewalks get piled on with snow while many of us walk in the streets just to get to the bus stop.


Delayed community land-use planning projects, like the one for Fairview, need to be prioritized and completed while these federal infrastructure dollars are still available to expend. When done correctly, community land-use planning infuses local transportation plans with on-the-ground, real-life community insight and input. The “complete street” model, multi-modal traffic plans, trail connectors, space for neighborhood parks — all these things come from well-conducted planning. Fairview is in desperate need of a well-conducted, comprehensive land-use plan that centers environmental equity and community at its core.

It’s no secret that the critical corridor and surrounding neighborhoods that connect the Glenn Highway to the Seward Highway have seen better days. We’ve all noticed it. From the shuttered businesses to the boarded-up “for sale” buildings, halfway enacted highway-to-highway transportation plans have caused right-of-ways and easements to depress economic investment in what could be a thriving and robust economic corridor in a critical arterial connection between the Glenn and Seward Highways.

We’ve got to do better.

It’s up to all of us to recognize that power lines don’t bury themselves, and 18-wheeler shipping trucks shouldn’t be driving next to neighborhood middle schools. Historic underinvestment and environmental inequities have wreaked havoc on these neighborhood transportation corridors for far too long. Let’s make the commitment and then actually follow through on getting monies from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to these long-forgotten critical facilities and transportation corridors so that we build back better communities for all our Anchorage neighbors.

Löki Gale Tobin is a staffer for Alaska Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, a member of the Pride Foundation board of directors and a community activist.

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