The fiscal year 2023 state budget proposed by Governor Michael Dunleavy (R) contains maintenance funding for the Dick Nash Memorial ice road that will help tribal transportation departments maintain the frozen Kuskokwim for travel in the 2022/2023 winter season.
[Above photo by the Alaska DOT&PF]
By contrast, in 2021, contributions from community stakeholders covered half of the ice road’s maintenance costs. However, as heating oil delivery and diesel costs are now over $6 per gallon in the region – and the state is experiencing a funding surplus based in part on high oil prices – Governor Dunleavy said in a statement that he believes it is “only right” to provide community relief where possible.
That is why, in addition to the proposed funding in his FY 2023 budget, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities plans to recover any remaining maintenance costs via federal surface transportation funding during the 2022/2023 winter season, Gov. Dunleavy said.
The Kuskokwim ice road – which can stretch up to 300 miles long – serves 17 villages and helps Alaskan rural communities move goods and services during winter months. They are a safe alternative when poor weather prevents airplanes from flying, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and proved an efficient way to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
Maintaining ice roads goes beyond plowing snow and placing reflectors. For example, the ice road crew serving the Village of Napaimute has developed a cell phone application to measure ice thickness. That application integrates ice-penetrating radar with traditional Native knowledge and local observations into an easy-to-access cell phone data format.
“I had the opportunity to travel the Kuskokwim Ice Road for the first time on a recent visit to the Villages of Napakiak and Napaskiak,” the governor said. “All those hundreds of miles of drivable ice are truly an Alaskan feat … and I heard from many residents about the importance of the road during the winter months for health, safety, commerce, and recreation. I’m glad we have identified funding to cover this expense from existing authorities.”