The state Transportation Department has reopened one of two road-maintenance stations that were shut down four years ago by state budgets cuts. And it’s planning to reopen the second station, near Birch Lake, within the next two weeks, with funding through the federal CARES Act.
State transportation workers will be able to clear snow and fill potholes more quickly along a stretch of the Richardson Highway and other roadways north of Valdez now that the state is reopening road maintenance stations at Birch Lake and Chitina.
“We were able to open the Chitina station on Monday,” said Transportation Department spokesperson Caitlin Frye,” and we expect to be able to open the Birch Lake Station before the end of the month.”
Frye says work has been under way for a couple of weeks now to un-do the winterizing that was done back in October 2016, when the two stations and two others were mothballed, due to state budget cuts.
“Our folks have been working on it for the past week or two, just getting the facilities back in shape to be operational again,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Governor Mike Dunleavy says the federal government is paying to reopen and operate the stations for the next year-and-a-half with transportation funding made available through the federal CARES act.
“The money that’s being used to open them in the remainder of FY21 and FY22 is a grant from the federal government for the federal highway system,” Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner said. He says the $1.2 million grant will buy some time for the department to figure out how to keep the two facilities open.
“Right now, I think the Department of Transportation is looking at its different options on how to get permanent funding for the road-maintenance stations,” Turner said Tuesday.
Frye says the department officials do want to keep the stations open, if funding is available. She says it’s been tough for the department to keep up with maintenance on those stretches of highway over the past four years, and to repair potholes, frost heaves and other road-surface problems.
“Our operators really have been doing a phenomenal job, under really tough circumstances, to try to innovate and do new things to keep up a level of service that the public expects – with less money,” she said.
Frye says eight workers affected by the closures were either transferred to other facilities or placed in different positions within the department. And she says personnel from stations nearest to those that were closed adjusted their coverage areas to ensure the highway was maintained.
“So, Fairbanks station ended up plowing all the way to Birch Lake,” she said. “And then Delta Junction (station) came up north on the Richardson Highway and plowed to Birch Lake.”
The Chitina station, northeast of Valdez, maintains portions of the Edgerton and the Old Edgerton highways, and a stretch of McCarthy Road during the summer.
Frye says there are no plans yet on reopening the other two road-maintenance stations closed in 2016, at Central and O’Brien Creek, on the Taylor Highway, nor on keeping the Thompson Pass station, near Valdez, open year-round.