My turn: Ketchikan should drop bridge

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2007

On April 2, Don Young, the representative for all Alaska, came to Ketchikan as the guest of honor at a barbecued pork dinner. How funny is that?

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He was not wearing his golden fleece, but flecks of it were gleaming from his teeth. I think he's been chewing on it. There was no mention of the Gravina situation in any of the promotional material he was handing out to the crowd, which fit quite comfortably into the new Sunny Point Conference Room.

The usual diehard geezers (myself included) were there, but he was targeting a younger demographic. "Young Man" and "Young Woman" stated the campaign buttons. Young seems to be looking to the future.

So what's wrong with Ketchikan's local representation? The city's transportation dollars continue to flow into Gravina access, a pointless project that is never going to materialize while the residents of Ketchikan dodge potholes that could swallow a brown bear.

Young didn't give up his pork, but he seems to have come to the realization that constructing a bridge across the Tongass Narrows might not be the best approach for the future development of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, despite what he says to Ketchikan reporters.

The focus has shifted back to the Tongass Narrows as a superhighway, and the talk is all of ships and ferries. Thank goodness hydro has risen from the ashes, too. And at last there is serious talk about supporting fiber optic highways in our area, a special blessing for Prince of Wales Island residents who will likely never have a road link to the mainland.

The Gravina Bridge has vanished from Sen. Bert Stedman's online newsletter. But as a parting shot, defeated Gov. Frank Murkowski awarded a bid to Kiewit for design and construction of the 3.2-mile Gravina Roadway. If I had the energy, I'd follow that money trail, but I'd rather head down a brighter path.

Gov. Sarah Palin seems to be open to new directions, but the message she keeps getting from Ketchikan is what? That we're lunatics? That we want transportation dollars spent in a place that none of us drive?

If you stand in the city and look across the Tongass Narrows, east of the airport runway, you can see where the money to fill Ketchikan potholes is going: into a road residents will probably never drive on. Meanwhile, some Ketchikan residents are afraid to teach their kids to drive because the roads on the island are so dangerous, but they can't let them walk because there are no pedestrian paths along the roads.

I think what Young would like to have said to the folks at the Sunny Point Conference Room was, "Eat your pork; don't waste it. Feed your children with it; not your fat cats."

It is overdue for Ketchikan to reassess its transportation needs. If the people of Ketchikan build, people will come. After all, Ketchikan is the best-kept secret in Alaska. Residents need to show some pride in the city's beauty and charm. By taking care of what there is, development will beat a path to Ketchikan's door.

Residents are lucky that the island is a rock. Upon this rock a skyscraper could be built that would meet the needs of many modern industries and take up a footprint no larger than the old hospital building that blights downtown. The intersection of Forest Avenue and the new Third Avenue Bypass Road is another promising location for vertical expansion. Ketchikan needs to lift its sights beyond the delusions of past administrations.

Finally, I would like to praise the work of the airport ferry crew. All the rhetoric about access to the airport maligns the fine job they do. There is no faster, easier, more dependable way that could be developed to get across the Tongass Narrows short of having Scotty beam people over. Thanks, guys. It's always nice to have you as my welcoming party when I come off the road.

• Carol Cairnes is a Ketchikan resident and member of the Tongass Conservation Society Board.



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