DOT closes maintenance stations until next summer to cut costs
Thompson Pass station will go to winter only operations after this winter
(AP) The Alaska Department of Transportation has closed four road maintenance stations and discontinued maintenance at a rural airport as part of a series of cuts brought on by a drastic reduction in the department's budget.
This year, the Thompson Pass Maintenance Station, on the Richardson Highway near Valdez, will become a seasonal station and only open in the winter.
The closures announced Tuesday come as the department says its budget has decreased by $60 million since 2015, KTUU-TV reported.
The four closed maintenance stations are in different parts of eastern Alaska and have handled snowplowing, filling potholes and clearing ditches, among other tasks. The department is also limiting its operations at a fifth maintenance station.
The DOT will no longer light or plow the runway at Circle Hot Springs Airport, but aircraft can still land and take off from there.
Meadow Bailey, transportation department spokeswoman, said 20 jobs were lost as a result of the closures. DOT has had to lay off 117 support staff and 55 operators across the state in the last two years due to dwindling funds, according to Bailey.
"For our department, which tends to be a very visible department, when we make cuts like this it's really noticeable," Bailey said. "These are drastic cuts for us. We've seen a huge hit to our maintenance forces."
Officials said the changes mean the roads will still be maintained but it will take longer to plow snow and address icy roads, as other maintenance stations located further away will take over the responsibilities.
"It's not going to be nearly as efficient or responsive as we have been in the past," Bailey said. "These are really significant cuts for us. This will definitely impact the way we do business and people will notice this."
The maintenance stations that closed Friday include the O'Brien Creek Maintenance Station on the Taylor Highway, the Chitina Maintenance Station in Chitina, the Birch Lake Maintenance Station on the Richardson Highway and Central Maintenance Station in Central.