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Conference hears updates on projects

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By Chris Eshleman

For the Journal

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Interested contractors and guests gathered at the Sullivan Arena to hear updates on multi-million dollar construction projects Feb. 18 at the Pacific Rim Construction, Oil & Mining Expo in Anchorage.

A presentation of ongoing projects at the airport, railroad and port included comments from former Gov. Bill Sheffield.

Sheffield, director or the Port of Anchorage, updated the progress of the port's intermodal expansion project.

The project aims to effectively double the port's size. This will allow larger ships with deeper drafts and wider beams access to port facilities. In doing so, Sheffield explained, the expansion will allow the port to accommodate existing clients who are upgrading their fleets.

Later this year, bidding will begin for the design of phase one of the six-phase project. The budget for the entire expansion is estimated at about $350 million.

Sheffield said that port staff would spend time this fall making purchasing decision before the construction phases begin.

"We're going to be spending a good part of this year, early fall, making some choices on gravel delivery," Sheffield said, explaining that they haven't decided yet whether to have building materials shipped via the inlet or brought in by rail. "That will be a big item," he said.

Sheffield said he hopes to see construction begin this year on a new railroad line, which will run behind the port. Bidding for that project should begin within weeks, he said.

Richard Wilson, development director at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, summarized major improvement projects slated for 2004.

Total projects will cost more than $112 million, Wilson said, although many depend on matching federal grant money coming through. Airport personnel won't be sure about the status of those funds until spring, he said.

Projects to overhaul the airfield constitute about half the budget, including $18 million to rehabilitate Taxiway R. That taxiway must be widened as the airport continues to prepare for the arrival of the new Airbus A380 aircraft, Wilson said.

The A380, a combination cargo and passenger plane, is significantly larger than the Boeing 747 aircraft currently making stops at the airport, Wilson said. Companies such as FedEx have already ordered these planes, which will begin landing in Anchorage in 2008 as part of a Memphis-to-Anchorage route, he said.

"Airport infrastructure is needed to complete the demands for the new Airbus 380 and other large aircraft," Wilson said. "The question has come up in the past as to whether we're going to retain our position as the place to be, as far as air cargo transportation," he said, pointing out that the ability to handle the huge jets will keep Anchorage competitive as a major cargo stop.

Among the other airfield projects scheduled for this year are a $28 million expansion of the field maintenance facility, separation of the taxiway at the Lake Hood Lakeshore, improvements to the Lake Hood Strip and reconstruction of the North Terminal Gate N8.

The airport is also in the process of redesigning Concourse C, said Wilson, and the current phase of this multi-year project will cost over $48 million, more than a third of the airport's 2004 budget for capital improvement projects.

Brett Flint spoke on behalf of the Alaska Railroad Corp. He said that ARRC is planning numerous capital improvement projects for 2004, costing a total of $46 million.

The ARRC, a public corporation owned by the state of Alaska, has been working with the municipality on a redevelopment strategy for the Ship Creek area. A master plan is now complete, Flint said.

Within that plan is the construction of a new intermodal facility at Ship Creek. The facility will include a new depot and parking garage. It could also include a skywalk connecting the depot with E Street and downtown Anchorage, but inclusion of the skywalk into the depot's design is dependent upon further action from the municipality, Flint said in an interview.

The estimated cost of that project is $40 million, and bidding for the engineering phase will begin within weeks.

Flint discussed numerous other projects including some intended to realign and straighten the track. He said sections between Anchorage and Wasilla will be targeted as ARRC attempts to cut travel time along that route.

"Our goal is to reduce our running time between Anchorage and Wasilla by 40 minutes," he said. This would make a commuter rail trip competitive with driving a car to the Matanuska-Susitna area, he said.

To do this, Flint said workers would work to straighten out curves in the line, install continuously welded track, and signalize the train service so that trains could run faster.

ARRC has work scheduled for about a dozen other projects next year, including the construction of a new operations center, a yard expansion, and the drafting of a master plan for a depot in Whittier.

"Whittier is very important to the railroad because that's our link to the outside world," Flint said, pointing out that ARRC has a barge for loading and unloading cars there.

Flint also announced that ARRC has just signed a contract for the construction of a new intermodal facility in Fairbanks, including a new depot.

Corps projects

In a separate presentation, Stephen Boardman spoke on behalf of the Alaska District of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Boardman, deputy chief of the Project Management Division, unveiled the Corps of Engineers' workload, which includes numerous projects slated for Fort Wainwright, including the design of a DTA Battle Area Complex, construction of military operations courses and facilities, and an Alert Holding Area.

Each of those projects would cost at least $25 million, according to the project list handed out by Boardman, which also listed 20 other projects scheduled for this year. The project locations reveal that major bases as well as more remote facilities will receive attention.

"We're doing environmental work mainly on the outer edges," Boardman said, standing next to a map displaying project locations around the state. "Then military operations construction, maintenance construction, (is) going on in the more active (facilities)."

Boardman pointed out that these projects continue to have a tremendous impact on the state's economy.

"We've anticipated putting $667 million into the economy this year," he said. "That's payments to contractors, payments to designers, payroll. Next year, we're anticipating about the same amount."

Boardman said that the Corps is continuing to hold "brown bag" meetings for interested parties. The meetings are held in both Anchorage and Fairbanks, he said, and those interested should contact Project Management so their names can be added to the mailing list.

"Our goal is to keep you folks current on what work is coming up so you can prepare for it," Boardman told those in attendance.

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How much of an impact do you think this will have in the long run? More jobs, pollution, shift in the economy. And Urbanwise could it revolutionize the area?

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