Econ 919 -- The value of good roads

Sep 28, 2018

  You know how we all mumble a bit beneath our breath when we see road work ahead and a flagger stopping a long line of cars during road construction season - especially when we’re at the back of the line? Frustrating, yes, and this year it seems to be happening everywhere you turn in the Central Kenai Peninsula. But being glass-half-full kind of people here at public radio, we’re looking for the positive spin, of which there are a surprising number. The most surprising number is: $109 million, which is what’s being spent on state roads in the Central Peninsula. DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy in Anchorage says that is a good sized chunk of money for one part of the state in one year. 

  McCarthy says the DOT gets about $250 million per year to spend in the Central Region.

State highways and roads are all built and rehabilitated with 90 percent funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the national gasoline tax, meaning the state is only on the hook for 10 percent of the costs.

It’s hard to judge the positive economic impact of such extensive reconstruction, but the negative economic impact of poor roads would be immediately evident to anyone who depended on them. McCarthy said the “multiplier effect” of the construction likely ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 times what is spent. As estimated by the National Economic Council and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, the $109 million investment would have a conservative impact of $163.5 million at one-and-a-half times the outlay, and up to $272.5 million at a rate of two-and-a-half times.

So how good is it going to be? Well, of the nine — yes nine — road projects between Nikiski and Cooper Landing, there are about 70 miles of road getting rehabilitated, resurfaced or downright replaced. It’s 140 miles if you take into account that that the roads go in both directions, and the figures just get out of hand when you start thinking about the two-lane roads that are being expanded to four or five lanes in different places.

Much of the road work is going to be wrapping up for the winter soon, but a couple projects in the area have a few more seasons ahead of them, including the Kenai Spur Highway rehab and expansion between Sports Lake and Swires roads, and the Sterling Highway stretch from mileposts 97 to 118. So we have a lot to look forward too, not just sitting behind a Winnebago waiting for the pilot car.

Our number this week is 2, as in October 2. That’s municipal election day around much of Alaska and on the Central Kenai Peninsula. Besides all the other reasons one should be present at the polls, there’s this: the folks we elect to our governing bodies are the ones who make the decisions for which local roads are rehabilitated. So choose well when you go to the polls on Tuesday — a road near you may depend on it.