WASILLA — Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy named John MacKinnon the new commissioner of the Department of Transportation Wednesday at the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce building at the intersection of the Parks Highway and Knik-Goose Bay Road.
“I’m excited about having him on board. I think his experience focused on what we need to accomplish here in the state of Alaska is going to get us some excellent transportation systems in place, improve what we have, and help grow Alaska,” Dunleavy said.
MacKinnon is married to state Senator Anna MacKinnon. John Mackinnon worked as a contractor for 25 years before working for DOT between 2003 and 2008, and also served on the Juneau Planning Commission and the Juneau Assembly.
“We’ve got to look at the bigger picture of things, is public safety, the sustainability of what we’re constructing and maintaining as well as what it does to help the economy, and my view always has been if you have a healthy economy you can afford to take care of all of your needs. But if you don’t have a healthy economy, taking care of those needs is a challenge,” MacKinnon said.
The location of the announcement provided significance, as the transportation woes of Valley residents are very apparent to the new administration.
“We’re doing it here in Wasilla at the intersection of the Parks and KGB for a reason. This is one of the fastest growing areas of Alaska,” Dunleavy said.
MacKinnon and Dunleavy were joined by the majority of the Valley delegation of legislators. Senators Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower were in attendance, as well as Representatives David Eastman, Mark Neuman, George Rauscher, and Cathy Tilton.
“I think Governor Dunleavy coming in here and introducing his commissioner of DOT right here in Wasilla at the intersection of these two roads shows his priority on KGB and Parks Highway, very high priorities,” Neuman said.
MacKinnon and Dunleavy were questioned on specific projects affecting transportation and public safety in the Valley and throughout the state. The Knik-Goose Bay Road construction updates, the Knik Arm Bridge, and the idea of a commuter rail were just some of the few projects still left undetermined. MacKinnon referred to these as ‘legacy projects’ and said that he has to get up to speed before decisions can be handed down from the Dunleavy administration and carried out.
“I’ve got to look in to see what it takes to start them up again. It depends on the direction I’m given by Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy. My understanding is the door wasn’t shut and latched, they were put into a, I want to say a dormant mode where they actually could be reactivated,” MacKinnon said. “I can only toss out numbers from a dozen years ago on what some of the cost of congestion was. It was big, and if you can take and monetize that cost to the economy of cars stuck in traffic and congestion, monetize that and invest in the system it would be well worth it it would more than pay for itself.”
Hughes was also pleased with the pick of MacKinnon as DOT Commissioner. She said that about five years ago, she began putting pressure on DOT to develop a plan for lane closures on the Glenn Highway, such as ‘Bridgepocalypse’ earlier this year. Hughes said that she had already discussed the diversion plan in an event of lane closures with MacKinnon, and that the plan would roll out sometime in January.
“It’s a real deal when the road gets shut down, half day, whole day or several days. We can plan ahead and we can alleviate that, so I’m looking forward to a solution in that area, looking forward to improved snow removal, maintenance and some of these life safety projects as well,” Hughes said. “I appreciate the priority of life safety issues. In addition to KGB there’s one that hits all of us every day at this time of year, is the snow removal . We hear a lot about some of that, so I’m looking forward to seeing some improvements in that area.”
Dunleavy was also asked about the letters sent out to state employees asking for their resignation and to re-apply for their positions should they want to continue to work for the Dunleavy administration.
“We just have to make sure that some of these folks especially in these key areas are part of that agenda and can support that to move this along,” Dunleavy said. “We’re going to be reviewing everyone as to whether they want to be a part of this administration whether they’re going to be a good fit for this administration.”
Dunleavy said he was very pleased with MacKinnon’s qualifications and his experience working in transportation.
“Smart guy, my experience in dealing with him, his experience, his experience in southeast with ferries and road issues and his understanding of just transportation in general. And just his enthusiasm to be part of this,” Dunleavy said. “We’re going to be focused on making sure that we put people in the place that are going to grow Alaska, help make it safer, help create jobs, and create opportunities. That was the campaign goal and that’s what we’re going to be doing in our administration.”