ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A major economic development project for the Mat-Su Borough is picking up steam.
The Federal Surface Transportation Board has recommended a route for the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension. The board also released the final environmental impact statement for the route, which the borough says is a huge milestone.
The federal board has oversight of all rail line construction in the United States.
"This is a project that's already started in the Port District, but we're now ready to move forward," said Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss.
"This is something that was started well over ten years ago, when I was on the assembly. So I'm very glad to be here to see it one step closer to fruition."
The 32-mile rail extension will link Port Mackenzie to the main line of the Alaska Railroad. It will run from the port, through the Port MacKenzie Agricultural District to the main line, near Houston.
Assembly member Cindy Bettine says she's glad that the route for the rail spur has finally been decided. "I think at this point, the communities are working hard with the railroad, to make sure all the trail crossings are protected, and we are really looking forward to the latest economic development project for the state."
At a cost of about 218 million dollars, construction of the line is expected to create about 3,000 jobs. The borough says it hasn't seen a project of this magnitude since the construction of the Parks Highway in 1971 and the Anchorage-Fairbanks electrical intertie in the mid-1980's.
According to Elizabeth Gray, the acting Mat-Su Borough manager, "This project is very important to the economic diversification of the state of Alaska. So this is a state project, not just a borough project."
If construction of a natural gas line begins, the borough says the rail spur would be very important. It says studies show that costs could be cut by about 100 million dollars by using Port MacKenzie to ship pipe and other materials.
The borough also says the line will also spur mineral exploration in the Interior, by making it cheaper to ship heavy equipment and materials to areas under development.
And once those resources are tapped, assembly member Cindy Bettine says, "It's big economic benefit is that it will get those minerals from those areas to tidewater quicker, faster and less expensive."
From nickel to copper, to coal and limestone, the borough says there are a wide variety of minerals that could come down the railroad spur from the Interior.
Now the work begins.
According to Brian Lindamood, project manager for the Alaska Railroad, "Now that we have a lot more certainty as to the route, and we have a certain amount of mitigation that we need to consider, our team's going to be re-evaluating and making adjustments as we need to over the next few months."
The borough says the route recommended by the Surface Transportation Board minimizes impacts, and that only one house along the 32-mile corridor will have to be moved. The borough also says crossings will be built, where the new rail line cuts through officially-recognized recreational trails. Fish are also included in efforts to mitigate impacts. Six bridges and several fish passage culverts are planned to run along the route.
The Alaska Railroad and the Mat-Su Borough plan an open house to discuss the project on Thursday, April 7 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Evangelo's Restaurant in Wasilla.