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By Edith G. Alejandro

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Apr. 6) – If the CNMI gets the $12 million promised in the recently passed $275-billion U.S. transportation bill, the Talafofo-Kingfisher road project would immediately take off.

Special Adviser for CIP Management Charles D. Jordan disclosed yesterday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now preparing its environmental assessment study on the Talafofo-Kingfisher area in preparation for the 12-mile highway project that would connect the Bird Island Lookout Point to the Talafofo area.

The highway proposal-a priority project by Gov. Juan N. Babauta-is aimed at enhancing tourist destinations and opening the entire area to prospective businesses and investors.

Based on the project proposal, the highway would take on the existing track along the Kingfisher area; connect two ravines by constructing two bridges; and the paving of rough roads all the way to the Bird Island Lookout Point, for a total highway length of about 12 miles.

"It is the first time for the CNMI to receive this much federal highway funding. Originally, we get $3.5 million a year. The highway project begins at the Kingfisher area all the way to the Bird Island. It would enhance the tourist destination and would open all lands to agricultural homestead and future developments in the area," explained Jordan.

He added that the U.S. Army Corps would conduct the environmental assessment study of the area to determine whether endangered species would be impacted by the development. If approved, the project is expected to be completed in three years, he said.

The CNMI is keeping its fingers crossed, though, since the transportation measure has yet to be passed by the U.S. Senate. It is also the same bill that President Bush had threatened to veto-possibly the first veto of his presidency-as it is way above the amount he had proposed.

According to Jordan, the Babauta administration has been working on the highway project in the last two years. He said recent meetings were also held in Washington D.C. this year to finalize the project.

"We made presentations before and the governor had several discussions to ensure that the CNMI would be included in this most important bill," added Jordan.

Only last March 30, 2004, Babauta followed up on this when he asked U.S. Rep. Don Young to support the project.

Public information officer Peter A. Callaghan said the governor has credited Young for the insertion of the CNMI's funding request, saying the project would not be possible without the U.S. lawmaker's help.

Callaghan said the project would boost the CNMI's tourism development by linking two of the most scenic areas on Saipan.

"The development and improvement of infrastructure is extremely important. In order for us to compete in developing the economy, we must be competitive and scenic attractions directly help us in this area," he added.

Callaghan said the CNMI will monitor the situation closely as the bill moves through the U.S. Congress and to the U.S. president in the coming weeks.

The House overwhelmingly approved the six-year, $275 billion transportation bill Friday. The measure is loaded with more than 2,800 projects sought by lawmakers eager to deliver to their districts, ranging from $1.5 million for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., to $1.5 million for horse trails in Virginia, to $12 million for a highway in the CNMI.

The House's 357-65 vote to approve the bill, along with the Senate's approval of a $318-billion highway and mass transit bill in February, virtually ensures that what emerges from negotiations between the chambers to reconcile their differences will be higher than the $256 billion that the White House set as its limit.

Overall, the nearly 900-page measure would provide $217 billion for highways, $51.5 billion for transit, such as buying public transit buses and building rail lines, and $6 billion for safety and research programs.

Among the measures to ease gridlock, the bill would authorize states to allow solo drivers in carpool lanes if they pay a toll and fund building of truck-only lanes. It also would fund projects for magnetic levitation trains that could run in excess of 240mph.

April 6, 2004

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