Initiative calls on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to restore Turnagain Pass snow plow funding

Turnagain Pass closure Feb. 20, 2020 (Alaska Dept. of Transportation & Public...
Turnagain Pass closure Feb. 20, 2020 (Alaska Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities) (KTUU)
Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 2:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Citizens from across Alaska are calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to restore funding for winter maintenance and parking lot plowing on the Seward Highway and through Turnagain Pass.

Last year, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities closed the Silver Tip Maintenance Station — which handled plowing in Turnagain Pass— as well as reduced plowing hours and cut five plow operator positions from the Central Region. The department cited lower than expected revenue from the motor fuel tax as the reason for the cuts.

Now, more than 1,600 individuals and businesses have signed a letter requesting the governor use Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to restore snow plowing to its previous amount this winter.

Lee Hart, executive director of Alaska Outdoor Alliance, says that the funding can be used because plowing the pass and parking lots benefit the health of Alaskans, the regional economy and public safety.

“When you aren’t plowing the road as well and especially those parking pullouts, the fear is that you’re increasing the risk of people getting harmed. Either those people who are going up there to recreate, or even people who are commuting between the Kenai and Anchorage, who need that road to be safe and open for everyone concerned,” Hart said.

Hart says that last winter, the unplowed parking lots meant by people who wanted access to the backcountry had to park on the side of the highway. Not having a safe place to park deters recreation and businesses that cater to the industry, Hart said.

“We had over 160 business owners, guides, outfitters, established 44-year businesses like Alaska Mining and Diving, and restaurants, others who benefit from winter recreation in all over, but especially in Turnagain Pass,” Hart said describing the support of the initiative.

Public lands in Alaska have seen increased usage during the coronavirus pandemic, and Hart expects that to continue into the winter, thus increasing the need for safe access.

“Being able to have Turnagain Pass better maintained to make sure our winter recreation professionals can continue to do their business, as well as Alaska residents enjoying that area for their own health and well being definitely seems like its a worthwhile expenditure of CARES money, and again that’s just the short term,” Hart said. “We’d like to get that restored in a more permanent way, but that’s a bigger conversation for the legislature.”

On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly is set to take action on a resolution supporting increased maintenance on the Seward Highway and the Turnagain Pass Plowing Initiative.

Monday afternoon a spokesperson for the Governor said he had received the letter, but has not yet responded to it.

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