Monday, September 24, 2007
Story of the Day-Bridge to Nowhere
Live from the Bridge to Nowhere...
The Gravina Island Bridge was a proposed bridge to replace the ferry that currently connects the city and borough of Ketchikan, Alaska (population 13,125 to the Ketchikan International Airport on Gravina Island. 
The project had been met with fierce opposition and had been labeled the "Bridge to Nowhere" by some in the media. It was cited by Senator John McCain of Arizona and others as a paradigmatic example of pork barrel spending in the 2005 Transportation Equity Act.
Media coverage of the bridge issue had focused on the secondary purpose put forward by the State of Alaska's official documentation, that of providing road access to the Ketchikan International Airport and had called into question the document's declared primary purpose — to provide access to developable lands on Gravina Island. Statistics show that Ketchikan's airport is the second largest in Southeast Alaska after Juneau International Airport accommodating over 200,000 passengers a year, while the ferry shuttles approximately a half million people in the same time period (as of December 2006) .
The ferry, which costs $5 per person plus $6 per vehicle (one way) , runs to the island every 30 minutes for most of the year. During the peak tourist season (May-September), a ferry runs every 15 minutes.
According to USA Today the bridge was to have been nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge. Ketchikan's primary industry is tourism, so the bridge was designed to be tall enough to accommodate the cruise ships which frequent the Alaskan waters during the summer.
Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska became the object of strong media criticism when in October 2005 he opposed diverting the Gravina and Knik Arm Bridge funds  to help aid recovery from Hurricane Katrina. In his speech on the senate floor, Stevens threatened to quit Congress if the funds were removed from his state.
The US Congress dropped the specific allocation for the two bridges, but the amount of money appropriated to Alaska remained unchanged. Alaska's DOT is 'leaning' toward alternative ferry options citing bridge costs (August 2007), despite having received the funds from the Federal Government. .
The City of Ketchikan has already begun to develop roads and a small amount of infrastructure for the island's inhabitants. However, residents continue to seek funding for the Gravina Island span. .
The project was canceled on September 21, 2007 by Alaska's governor Sarah Palin. “Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer,” said Governor Palin. “Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Governor Palin added. “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.
'Bridge to nowhere' has met its end
JUNEAU - Alaska has decided that the bridge sometimes called "the bridge to nowhere" really was going nowhere, officially abandoning the Ketchikan project that became a national symbol of federal pork-barrel spending. Governor Sarah Palin said Friday that the project was $329 million short of full funding. "We went through political hot water, tons of it, and not just nationally but internationally," said Joe Williams, Ketchikan-Gateway Borough mayor. "We have nothing to show for it." The $398 million bridge would have connected Ketchikan, on one island in southeastern Alaska, to its airport on another island. "We will continue to look for options for Ketchikan to allow better access to the island," the Republican governor said.
Alaska Abandons 'Bridge to Nowhere'
Some called it a bridge to the future. Others called it the bridge to nowhere.
On Friday, Alaska decided the bridge really was going nowhere, officially abandoning the project in Ketchikan that became a national symbol of federal pork-barrel spending.
While the move closes a chapter that has brought the state reams of ridicule, it also leaves open wounds in a community that fought for decades to get federal help.
"We went through political hot water — tons of it — and not just nationally but internationally," Ketchikan-Gateway Borough Mayor Joe Williams said. "We have nothing to show for it."
The $398 million bridge would have connected Ketchikan, on one island in southeastern Alaska, to its airport on another nearby island.
Gov. Sarah Palin said Friday the project was $329 million short of full funding.
"We will continue to look for options for Ketchikan to allow better access to the island," the Republican governor said. "The concentration is not going to be on a $400 million bridge."
Palin directed state transportation officials to find the most "fiscally responsible" alternative for access to the airport. She said the best option would be to upgrade the ferry system.
Ketchikan is Alaska's entry port for northbound cruise ships that bring more than 1 million visitors yearly. Every flight into Gravina Island requires a 15-minute ferry ride to reach the more densely populated Revillagigedo Island.
The town — seven blocks wide and eight miles long — has little room to grow. Local officials have said access to Gravina Island, population 50, is needed for the town and its economy to grow.
They called the state's decision premature, saying it came without warning.
"For somebody who touts process and transparency in getting projects done, I'm disappointed and taken aback," said state Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan. "We worked 30 years to get funding for this priority project."
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, championed the project through Congress two years ago, securing more than $200 million for the bridge between Revillagigedo and Gravina islands.
Under mounting political pressure over pork projects, Congress stripped the earmark — or stipulation — that the money be used for the airport, but still sent the money to the state for any use it deemed appropriate.
Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders said Friday the senator was interested in how the state ultimately used the money. A spokeswoman for Young said the congressman would have no comment.
Just last month, presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said pet projects could have played a role in a Minnesota bridge collapse that killed 13 people earlier this year.
"Maybe if we had done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country," McCain told a group of people in a town-hall style meeting in Ankeny, Iowa.
"Maybe the 200,000 people who cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your tax dollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it."
On Friday, Leo von Scheben, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said the bridge money could be used to build roads in Alaska.
"There is no question we desperately need to construct new roads in this state, including in southeast Alaska, where skyrocketing costs for the Alaska Marine Highway System present an impediment to the state's budget and the region's economy," von Scheben said in a statement.
The governor urged Alaskans not to dwell on the bridge.
"Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here," Palin said. "But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened."