Friday, December 30, 2005

Alaska: still to nowhere and beyond

"Alaskans can't look back at 2005 without recalling those bridges, which are known across the country as the 'bridges to nowhere.' Alaskans know them differently, of course, and here in Anchorage, one of them could span the Knik Arm and open new development opportunities.

"In late July, it was touted as the highlight of Rep. Don Young's 30-plus years in Congress. And his highway bill passed."

"The massive bill had $231 million earmarked for the Knik Arm crossing and $223 million for a Ketchikan bridge to connect the city to the airport. The delegation had something to cheer about."

"Two weeks later, President Bush signed the bill into law, and the $286 billion seems to be enough to make everyone happy. But that was before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and money was needed for reconstruction. And then the Iraq war continued to drag on, accruing a tab worth billions more."

"'Creating and repairing a vital interstate bridge now in Louisiana used by thousands and thousands and thousands of drivers every year, hundreds of thousands of drivers, should be a higher priority than constructing two massive and expensive bridges of dubious value and little merit,' said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. Stevens fought back, with theatrics that include an impassioned threat to resign if the money is taken away."

"While the battle raged in Washington, D.C., back home, the Government Hill neighborhood had a fight of its own. 'It basically rips a big gash right through the middle of the neighborhood,' said Stephanie Kesler, Government Hill community council. The federal government wanted the road to the Knik Arm bridge to dissect the neighborhood. 'It's sort of like the condemned man meeting with the firing squad to discuss which ammunition's going to be used,' said Kesler.

"Meanwhile in D.C., the delegation settled for a compromise: the state gets the money, but the specific earmarks for the bridges were removed."

"Stevens didn't have to resign, and as the year came to a close, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski planned to fully fund both bridges. 'I am proposing we spend the maximum allowed,' said Murkowski."

From a previous post:

"The first bridge would connect Ketchikan, a fishing village of 8,900 to an island with 50 residents and a small airport, even though a ferry runs every 15 minutes. According to USA Today, this boondoggle will be nearly as long as the Golden Gate and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge."

"The second bridge would connect Anchorage to a network of swamps and an 'ice' burg with one resident."

The article concluded: "The start of construction is still in the unforeseen future, but Alaska has made its first down payment, showing the rest of the country that with power, influence and tenacity, we can make it to nowhere and beyond."

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