ANCHORAGE - State transportation officials will hire an independent source to estimate the cost of building a bridge across Knik Arm.
Gordon Keith, regional director for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said his office will put out bids in coming weeks for the job of estimating the cost of a bridge between Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
The proposed bridge has been criticized as expensive and unnecessary. Opponents also say the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, the agency charged with coming up with a bridge plan, has been secretive in making decisions and indifferent to the project's effect on neighborhoods.
Coming up with a price could cost up to $200,000 and take 3½ months, Keith said.
"The issue keeps swirling around, so we thought it best to go ahead and do an independent estimate," he said.
The cost estimate has ranged over the years from $450 million to $1 billion, depending on the kind of bridge and the starting date of construction.
Links to streets on the ends of the span could increase the price by hundreds of millions.
The bridge authority estimated recently that the cost would be $667 million if construction began next year.
The authority made the estimate in response to a request from the governor's office. The figure could increase to $824 million by 2015, according to the authority.
The Transportation Department plan to get a new report on costs did not mean the authority's numbers are untrustworthy.
"I don't read that into it," Keith said. "We just think it's a prudent course of action for the Department of Transportation to do."
Construction costs are volatile, he said, and the department sometimes seeks independent cost estimates for its own projects. Also, the governor's office and the Federal Highway Administration indicated they wanted an accurate projected cost.
Randy Ruaro, a special assistant to Gov. Sarah Palin, said the administration was having trouble getting an accurate picture of timing of the project's phases and costs. The independent estimate is expected to answer those questions.