State transportation official says Gravina Access project not dead

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2008

KETCHIKAN - An Alaska transportation official says the Gravina Access project in Ketchikan is still very much alive.

"The Gravina Access project, depending on where you are in the state or nation, it's dead or ongoing," Mal Menzies, Southeast Alaska regional director for the Department of Transportation, told Ketchikan officials and residents Friday. "Here in the Southeast, it's ongoing and it never did die."

What has been abandoned is a controversial alternative that would have crossed Pennock Island with two high bridge spans. Menzies said there is not enough money to pay for that project and it's unlikely the state will receive any more Congressional earmarks for it.

But he said the state is reviewing other alternatives, including other bridge projects and improved ferry service.

Menzies said transportation officials will hold another series of public meetings in Ketchikan and will poll area residents as well as residents of Prince of Wales Island and Metlakatla.

Carol Cairnes, a Ketchikan activist, said she believed any bridge would negatively affect ship and floatplane traffic in the Tongass Narrows.

"The best way to improve access in Ketchikan is more ferries, heavier ferries that are free to the public," she said.

Cairnes asked about a discussion in Tuesday's Alaska House Transportation Committee meeting that the state might have to give back $55 million in funding to the federal government.

Menzies said the original project had two purposes: to provide access to the airport and to expand developable land for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. He said concerns about having to repay federal funds have been aired because the other alternatives would not include the Gravina Island Highway project.

The state has contracted with Kiewit Pacific of Seattle to build the Gravina Island Highway, which is under construction. Menzies said that if the selected access alternative does not link up with that project, the funds might have to be repaid.

In September, the state officially abandoned the project known nationally as "the bridge to nowhere" that became a symbol of federal pork-barrel spending. Officials said at the time that the DOT would prepare a list of projects across the state where $36 million in federal funds that was set aside for Gravina Island could be used.

Menzies said an improved ferry service would include vessels that could carry heavy loads, such as fire rigs.

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