Archive for the ‘federal highway system’ Tag

Alaska Asks – Roads? What Roads?   2 comments

Part 4 of Ernest Gruening’s speech at the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955, in which he examined many of the issues Alaskans had with the federal government nearly 60 years ago, which we still have with the federal government today. Gruening made a great many assumptions about what statehood would mean for Alaska that have proven not to be true, but for now, I’m just letting his voice speak for itself.


Let Us End American Colonialism

Let us now turn to a third form of transportation: highways. These catchwords of colonialism, “excluding Alaska”, likewise apply to our highway transportation. For Alaska is denied inclusion in the Federal Aid Highway Act. From this beneficent legislation enacted in 1916, and repeatedly amended and amplified, Alaska, alone among the States and incorporated territories, is excluded. Even Puerto Rico, which pays no federal taxes whatever, is included. Yet Alaskans pay all taxes, including the federal gas tax.

(So you can understand what Gruening meant about roads — a picture is worth a thousand words. The above photo is along the Richardson Highway, circa 1960. At the time, this was the only roadway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, the two largest cities in Alaska.)

The Congressionally wrought substitute–annual appropriation–is a witness to colonialism expressed in cold figures. The results are visible in the lack of an adequate Alaskan highway system. After 88 years of colonialism and 40 years after the enactment by Congress of the joint federal aid and state highway program, Alaska has only some 3,500 miles of highway. This is a negligible amount for an area one-fifth as large as the 48 states and with only one railroad.

For the first 38 years after the cession of Alaska no roads were built by any government agency. With Alaska almost totally public domain, highway construction was clearly a federal responsibility. In the next 36 years beginning with the first federal construction in 1905 and the outbreak of World War IL in 1941, the federal government appropriated about nineteen and a half million dollars, an average of a trifle over half a million dollars a year–a pittance. During that same period Alaska contributed some nine million dollars. Thus the federal contribution was 68.4 per cent of the total of twenty-eight and a half million dollars, and Alaska’s was 31.6 per cent, a far greater proportion than Alaska with its virtual totality of public domain would have had to pay under the Federal Aid Highway Act. It is fair to say, however, that under the Highway Act, federal funds go for construction and not for maintenance.

After road construction had been transferred from the War Department to the Department of the Interior in 1930, for the next decade or more throughout the nineteen thirties, when the federal government and the States were jointly expanding the national highway network, Alaska was given no new highway construction. Maintenance only was granted. Military requirements brought the Alaska Highway and the Glenn Highway, and in the later 1940’s a highway program to satisfy defense needs was begun and carried out for five years. But even that has been brought to a virtual halt. For the past three years the federal program has contained no new highway project. This year a token appropriation was included for the desirable Fairbanks-Nenana road, but at the price of halting construction of the important Copper River Highway. In fact the present greatly reduced program spells little more than slow completion and paving of the military highways begun eight years ago.

The federal government seems to be heading us back to mere maintenance.

In contrast the federal aid program in the mother country is being handsomely increased, reaching the largest sums in its history in the current biennial appropriation enacted in the second session of the 83rd Congress.

If Alaska were a State it would be automatically included in the expanding highway program. But as a colony it continues to be discriminated against, and that discrimination, instead of lessening is being aggravated.

By the same token Alaska has been excluded from the administration’s one hundred and one billion dollar federal highway program. One of its principal justifications, perhaps the principal justification, for this lavish, yet important and valuable proposal, is that it is in part a civilian defense measure to aid evacuation and dispersal in the event of a shooting war with atomic weapons. Yet the same administration that excludes Alaska from this defense measure wishes to keep Alaska in colonial bondage because of alleged national defense reasons.

The enactment of this multi-billion dollar program was deferred in the last session of Congress because of differences of opinion on how to finance it. But in one respect there was no difference of opinion: Alaska would be taxed for the program even if not included in it. The Eisenhower program, presented by General Lucius Clay, called for long term bonding to be repaid out of general funds, Congressional substitutes, on a more nearly “pay-as-you-go” basis, called for increased taxes on gasoline, tires, and other automobile accessories. Efforts to include Alaska in both programs failed, as did subsequent efforts to exclude Alaska from the tax provisions. So Alaskans will be taxed for benefits accruing solely to the residents of the mother country. What else is this but colonialism, crude, stark, undisguised and unashamed?
When both the presidential and congressional drafts failed of passage, President Eisenhower declared he was “deeply disappointed” and added:

“The nation badly needs good roads. The good of our people, of our economy, and of our defense requires that the construction of these highways be undertaken at once.”

As colonials we can merely note that Alaskans are, in the consideration of our President, apparently not part of “our people, our economy and our defense.”
There is yet more of humiliating disregard. The federal administration while patently uninterested in developing Alaska through its highways is strongly in favor of completing the Inter-American Highway.

On March 31, last, President Eisenhower in a letter to Vice-President Nixon requested an increase in the current appropriation for the central American portion from five million to seventy-five million dollars, a more than thirteen-fold increase. The President gave several reasons for this massive amplification. Three of them emphasized the important economic contribution to the countries through which this highway passes, and a fourth stressed the security aspects of the road.

We may applaud the purpose to complete the Inter-American Highway, with its economic benefits to Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. We may even enjoy our participation in this philanthropy to these good neighbors, remembering that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that every Alaskan is paying his share of that 75 million dollars. Still, some of us may wonder why similar consideration is not vouchsafed to Alaska, whose highway and economic needs are great, whose trade is almost exclusively with the United States, and whose relation to national security is certainly much closer than that of the Central American republics. This wonder in our part would be Particularly natural since President Eisenhower seems to exhibit concern about Alaska’s defense in connection with statehood.

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