Alaska $150M Knik bridge proposal moves forward

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

ANCHORAGE — A pair of bills to fund the proposed Knik Arm bridge with at least $150 million in state money are moving forward in the state Senate despite concerns over costs.

The sponsor of the funding bills, Wasilla Republican Sen. Linda Menard, was the only member of the Senate Transportation Committee to give unqualified support Tuesday for the controversial project to connect Anchorage to mostly undeveloped Mat-Su land near Point MacKenzie, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, said he’s afraid the state could be on the hook for a lot more money.

“My concern is knowing exactly what the state’s obligation is going to be in the long run,” he said.

Senate Transportation Chairman Albert Kookesh, a Democrat from Angoon, said questions about cost will be hashed out in the Finance Committee, where the bills go next.

Kookesh wrote that he had “no recommendation” on whether the bills are a good idea.

The two-lane bridge project calls for collecting tolls from drivers, with a charge estimated to be $5 each way per vehicle.

The state would join with a private developer, who would borrow to pay for bridge construction and operate it in exchange for the state sharing toll money.

But bridge planners now say the tolls won’t cover the payments to the developers in the first years the bridge is open. So the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, or KABATA, which the Legislature created in 2003 to pursue the project, is asking lawmakers to appropriate $150 million this year for a reserve fund.

The toll authority says the tolls will cover the payments after about the bridge’s first three years.

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