Budget cuts are having an impact on the maintenance of Kodiak’s roads, according to Alaska Department of Transportation regional directors.
“The cuts to the budget over the last few years have had an impact on our ability to provide a certain level of service,” said Lance Mearig, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities regional director for the south coast. “This past year, we did pretty well in the budget. It was the three years prior to that when the cuts were severe.”
Mearig, who’s been in the position for three months, explained the ADOT used to employ four people to work on highway maintenance in Kodiak. In recent years, that’s been reduced to two. He also said there’s been a roughly 30 percent cut in state funds for the ADOT since 2014.
According to the Governor’s Office, “ADOTPF’s ability to deliver needed transportation services including snow and ice removal, pothole and guardrail repair, rural airport operations, and regular scheduled ferries has been diminished.”
Robert Greene, ADOT Maintenance & Operations superintendent for Kodiak and the Aleutian District, said the department has seen a decrease in its purchase of certain commodities used for operations. These include sand, salt and various chemicals, which are used to treat the roads in snow or ice. The department has also implemented an anti-idle policy over the last few years, to reduce fuel waste, as well as reducing operating hours at some airports.
“We’re trying to do that first,” said Greene. “We’re trying to look at all the different avenues to go down. We’ve cut equipment prior to losing a person. But at a certain point, you’re cut, so the next step is to lose a position.”
Mearig said he wanted to assure residents that this isn’t affecting Kodiak discriminately. The response to the cuts has been a system of unification, with regards to operations.
“We’re trying to unify the service that we provide to classes of roadways across the state,” said Mearig, “It’s not how one region operates; this is how we operate across the state.”
By this method, Mearig said he hopes that the state will have a clearer picture of where the funding goes.
“By unifying our response to winter maintenance, legislators can see what we’re accomplishing and how we’re doing it,” he said. “And hopefully the people of Alaska cans see that we’re taking the money that we have and spreading it as evenly as we can to provide the highest level of service with the funds that we have available.”
Mearig said that despite cuts in funding, the department is still providing the services required to maintain roads and highways safely. However, that won’t necessarily last, depending on the budget for the next fiscal year.
“Our message to the public and to the Legislature is: We’ve reached that level. The public may be seeing differences in what we used to do, but we still believe that we’re covering our mission. And if we were reduced further, then the public would start to really notice,” he said. “Until the state of Alaska has a more stable fiscal plan in place, we are certainly at risk.”
Mearig said the department has the support of the governor’s office, but voiced concerns over the state’s budgetary future. Mearig explained that, following winter operations, the department used to ask for a supplemental appropriation for funds.
“Probably since 2015, we kind of got the message, don’t come asking for that,” Mearig said. “We don’t know what would happen if we used up our budget early this year, so we’re very cautious.”