The Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough, Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Interior Gas Utility (IGU) and the Alaska Railroad Corporation (the Coalition) have submitted an application for up to $100 million in Federal grant money through the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) program.
The Mat-Su Borough filed the application October 19, 2021. The Alaska Railbelt Clean Energy Transportation Infrastructure Project delivers regional energy improvements to interior Alaska communities by providing lower energy costs and supply while improving rail infrastructure in the Mat-Su. The goal for these regions is increased economic opportunities with long-term resiliency and improved air quality.
The application process includes two-phases followed by final approval. If the project makes it through the first phase, $500,000 will be awarded that will allow for development of a phase 2 proposal.
This project is made up of three component projects which are detailed in the Phase 1 concept proposal narrative:
By completing 18 miles of the PMRE, $184 million of State investment will be brought into production. The railroad embankment and bridges are complete and all Federal permits have been secured, putting this project years ahead in the process. Port MacKenzie and its 14 square miles of uplands stands to benefit from this grant by completing over half of the remaining construction needed to bring main rail line access to tidewater in the Mat-Su via Port MacKenzie. The Mat-Su Borough and Alaska Railroad remain committed to completing the entire 33 miles to the Port, offering the only deep draft dock option in Cook Inlet, as well as an alternative port in the event of a manmade or natural disaster. Speaking before the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, Mayor Bryce Ward can see a day where benefits from a fully completed rail to Port MacKenzie are realized by the entire state, “for Interior shippers, the new rail link shortens the distance to tidewater; and increased rail freight activity, and development stimulated by the rail link, will benefit rail belt communities through increased employment, contributions to the state and community tax base, and overall economic health.”
The total estimated project cost is $203.9 million. The Coalition will match a minimum of 20% of any funds awarded and prepare to fund the project balance over the $100 million grant limit, which could be funded through the IGU’s bonding authority, continued support from State grants for the rail component project and State revenue set aside for capital improvements.
The Alaska Congressional Delegation, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, several Alaska State Legislators, and multiple municipalities within the two Boroughs were included in the thirteen letters of support for the BBBRC phase 1 proposal so far. Additionally, both the Mat-Su and Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblies have backed their commitment to the project by adopting Resolutions of support.
Mat-Su Borough Manager, Mike Brown believes strategic partnerships yield successful projects. “This coalition is a great example of partnering to develop infrastructure, advance economic development, and propose solutions to meet Alaska’s needs regionally. This project meets various needs for both the Fairbanks North Star and Mat-Su Boroughs and their many communities. It is not too often we have an opportunity like this to address the need for a cleaner, more sustainable energy source for interior Alaska; provide economic benefit and improve resiliency through improved rail infrastructure with access to tidewater; and improve air quality and reduce carbon gas emissions with more efficient rail transportation.”