Transportation bill means hundreds of millions for Alaska

$209 million earmarked for Knik bridge, $15 million for road to Skagway

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005

The highway bill approved Friday by Congress includes $209 million to build a bridge across the Knik Arm that is now dubbed "Don Young's Way."

It also includes $15 million for the proposed road connecting Juneau to Skagway and $60 million over the next six years for the state ferry system.

The Juneau Access Project's preconstruction engineer said the long congressional delay in approving the transportation bill has delayed the project's final environmental study. He said the state now plans to issue the final report in mid-winter.

The state's decision on whether to build the 68.5-mile road will likely be issued in April, said Pat Kemp, regional preconstruction engineer for the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The state likely will use the $15 million to build the road as far as Berners Bay, and then tackle the rest of the project as additional funds become available, Kemp said.

Two of the biggest items in the six-year, $286 billion bill are the earmarks by House Transportation Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, for the bridge across the Knik Arm near Anchorage and for another bridge to Gravina Island near Ketchikan.

The bill includes $209.4 million for the planning, design and construction of the two-mile span from Anchorage to Point MacKenzie.

The Gravina access project that includes four bridges and an access road to connect Ketchikan to its airport on Gravina Island, calls for $148 million for construction, earthwork and roadway access. Some analysts say the amounts may actually be higher.

Keith Ashdown, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, estimated the bill contains about $700 million for Alaska. He said for its population size, Alaska fares better than any other state in the transportation bill.

The watchdog group said Friday that the bill contains all pork and no meaningful efforts to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure or policy.

House Transportation staffer Steve Hansen said Young has Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to thank for naming the Knik Arm bridge "Don Young's Way." Stevens inserted that language into the bill fairly recently, Hansen said.

Ashdown's group has been particularly critical about the Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges, calling them bridges to nowhere. Naming the bridge after Young spurred more criticism.

"I am outraged that Chairman Young thinks this bridge to nowhere is an appropriate use of taxpayer money, but I believe that naming this boondoggle after himself is a perfect way to symbolize the waste, graft and parochial politics in this transportation bill," Ashdown said in a prepared statement.

Hansen said Alaska is a young state with unique needs.

"Alaska fared well, but you have to put everything in perspective," he said. "Alaska is the largest state in the union, and its geographical situation requires in some instances special transportation projects."

Other notable Alaska projects in the transportation bill include:

• $10 million for Fairbanks road improvements;

• $5 million for a relocation road in Shishmaref;

• $3 million for a bridge across the Naknek River;

• $2 million to study a possible natural gas pipeline from the Fairbanks North Star Borough to Southcentral Alaska.

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