On April 15, the U.S. Department of Transportation released “A Ten-Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic.” The report, sent to President Obama, falls under the 2013 United States National Strategy for the Arctic Region and the 2014 Strategy Implementation Plan’s objective to “Prepare for Increased Activity in the Maritime Domain.” Conservative estimates of vessel traffic in Alaska’s Arctic show a doubling of 2013 numbers in 10 years, with an increase to 420 vessels and 877 transits. Because there is very little onshore infrastructure in Alaska, this report identifies key areas and potential projects that can be undertaken to improve safety and commerce in the American Arctic.

According to the report, some vessels operating in the Arctic – particularly smaller recreational vessels – are neither designed nor equipped for hazardous Arctic conditions. Operations are made difficult and potentially dangerous due to limited nautical charts, aids to navigation, communication, emergency response, and rescue capabilities.

The report presents a framework in order to address Arctic infrastructure gaps by identifying critical requirements for a safe and secure U.S. Arctic Marine Transportation System over the next 10 years. This report looks at five core components needed for a sound waterway infrastructure: 1) navigable waterways, 2) physical infrastructure, 3) information infrastructure, 4) response services, and 5) vessels. The recommendations are grouped into near-term (2-4 years), mid-term (5-7 years), and long-term (7-10 years) planning and implementation.

The report has 43 recommendations overall, 25 of which are near-term recommendations. These include designating an American Arctic port of refuge at Port Clarence; working with stakeholders to coordinate research efforts and de-conflict research within commercial and subsistence use areas; placing hydrography and charting of the U.S. maritime Arctic among the highest priority requirements for agency execution; improving weather, water, and climate predictions to an equivalent level of service comparable to what is provided to the rest of the nation; supporting development of a Pan-Arctic response equipment database; and sharing information for continued development of guidelines for oil spill response in the Arctic.

The next step in this federal process will be the creation of a report further detailing the financing and public-private partnership opportunities required to help fill these infrastructure gaps. The U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System is currently seeking input on experience related to alternative financing of infrastructure projects, particularly those in Alaska. They desire input from all stakeholders including government, investors, the State of Alaska, Tribes, communities, and others. This input can be submitted to: arcticmts@cmts.gov