SUMMARY OF: A Special Report on the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOTPF), Gravina Island Access Project (GIA), October 30, 2009

Purpose of the Report

In accordance with Title 24 of the Alaska Statutes and a special request by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, we have conducted a performance audit of DOTPF and their progress in achieving the goal of Gravina Island access. The objective of the audit was to identify federal and state funds authorized, appropriated, and spent on GIA by project and phase, and to evaluate DOTPF’s use of redirected federal GIA earmarks for compliance with federal intent and state law. We also evaluated GIA’s work completed to date and the methodology for developing cost estimates for appropriateness. Furthermore, we evaluated whether GIA was managed in a cost effective and time sensitive manner, and assessed DOTPF’s progress in improving access from Ketchikan to its airport. Finally, we determined whether DOTPF transportation projects were delayed because of GIA earmarks.

Report Conclusions

Six earmarks, totaling $245.4 million were initially designated for GIA. Two earmarks were established in 1998 to develop the environmental impact statement (EIS); one was established in 2003 to construct bridges; and three were established in 2005 to design and construct the bridges and roadwork. In November 2005, just three months after authorizing the last three earmarks, Congress amended two bridge earmarks (shown as Earmark Nos. 5 and 6 in the table on the following page). The amendment redirected the earmarks away from bridge design and construction to be used by DOTPF for any federally approved transportation project. This reduced specific federal authorization for GIA from $245.4 million to $70.4 million.

Because Congress redirected use of the GIA earmarks, DOTPF allocated the now non-restricted funds according to state regulations. Specifically, regulation 17 AAC 05.190(b)(1-4) requires 48 percent of non-restricted federal funds be used on National Highway System (NHS) projects. The remaining 52 percent is to be used for all other federally approved projects within the statewide transportation improvement program (STIP).

After the bridge earmarks were redirected, Governor Murkowski’s administration directed DOTPF, in January of 2006, to preserve the NHS portion of the funds for use on the Gravina bridge.


Effect of Redirection over GIA Authorized Earmarks
Earmark Purpose Authorized Redirected GIA Earmarks
1 EIS planning and development $ 15,000,000 $ – 0- $ 15,000,000
2 EIS planning and development 5,443,000 -0- 5,443,000
3 Bridge construction 1,975,000 -0- 1,975,000
4 Earthwork and roadway construction 48,000,000 -0- 48,000,000
5 Planning, design and construction of a bridge 100,000,000 (100,000,000) -0-
6 Construction of a bridge 75,000,000 (75,000,000) -0-
Total $ 245,418,000 $ (175,000,000) $ 70,418,000

As a result, DOTPF identified over $75.9 million of Earmark Nos. 5 and 6 for future use on GIA. Governor Palin’s administration did not remove or change the previous administration’s directive over the reserved funds. Consequently, approximately $75.9 million of federal funds are available for obligation should DOTPF choose to go forward with GIA. Otherwise, in accordance with state regulations, these funds are available for other NHS projects. DOTPF has used a portion of the redirected earmarks on various approved STIP projects.

Although the State received more federal transportation funding for FFY 05 than it received in the previous two federal fiscal years, a larger percentage of the funds were earmarked, making less available for funding STIP projects. At the same time, raw materials and labor costs increased substantially. Together, these factors resulted in projects being delayed or removed altogether from planned DOTPF work.

In general, approximately $56 million have been expended on GIA work through May 2009. DOTPF properly interpreted federal intent related to the use of the GIA earmarks. Furthermore, roadwork completed on the underpass, Lewis Reef road, and highway portion of the GIA project was within the scope of the approved EIS. However, the decision to proceed with the highway construction in May 2007 was not in the public’s best interest given the lack of congressional financial support for the bridges and the significant increase in estimated cost. The highway terminates on the southern end of Gravina Island, yet DOTPF is uncertain whether a bridge will be constructed at that location.

Some progress in achieving the GIA goals has occurred but improved access from Ketchikan to Gravina Island has not. The preferred access alternative is cost prohibitive and unlikely to receive sufficient federal funding. The project is awaiting the results of a supplemental EIS that will examine other access alternatives.

Findings and Recommendations

Recommendation No.1

The Director of the Southeast Region of DOTPF should ensure state laws are adhered to for construction procurements.