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KABATA pushes ahead despite questions

Posted: November 5, 2013 - 1:01am

ANCHORAGE — A state agency created to build a bridge across the Knik Arm has continued to buy and demolish properties in the project’s path, despite questions about whether the bridge will ever be built.

Officials with the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, or KABATA, remain confident the bridge will be built and are moving forward with plans. But residents of Anchorage’s Government Hill worry the agency’s actions are merely meant to create an appearance of momentum for the project, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

A state audit, released around the end of the last legislative session, found KABATA’s traffic and toll projections to be unrealistic and warned the state would be on the hook if tolls fell short of what is required to repay construction costs.

The audit derailed a bill from Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, that was meant to advance the project. The House passed another version that would move remove KABATA from the picture and give the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. oversight.

Both versions will be in a Senate committee when the Legislature reconvenes in January, with Senate President Charlie Huggins having proposed a bill similar to Neuman’s. Some of the project’s greatest support has come from the Matanuska-Susitna delegation.

KABATA insists the audit was flawed and expects a report from a contractor reviewing the socio-economic data underlying the agency’s toll and traffic projections by late November or early December.

“The project is a state of Alaska project. It’s a priority of the state. We can’t build it until the right-of-way is acquired,” said Michael Rovito, KABATA’s legislative liaison. Before joining KABATA, Rovito was chief of staff to then-Sen. Linda Menard, a bridge supporter from Wasilla.

KABATA so far has spent $2.9 million to buy properties in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Anchorage’s Government Hill neighborhood. Two popular Government Hill businesses are among the latest targets: a Subway restaurant and Tesoro station that don’t want to move.

“We think that’s just a travesty,” said Stephanie Kesler, president of the Government Hill Community Council, which she said is trying to at least slow the project down.

Kesler said she thinks the financial future of the project is “tenuous at best.”

“At some point the governor and the Legislature will realize it is a financial house of mirrors,” she said.

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