State likely to ditch Gravina bridge for ferry

Commissioner seeks cost estimate for 'bridge to nowhere'

Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007

KETCHIKAN - The state's top transportation official said a ferry is the most likely option for improved access between Ketchikan and its airport on Gravina Island.

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Department of Transportation Commissioner Leo von Scheben wants cost estimates for a bridge, reviled as the "bridge to nowhere" by critics of congressional earmarks, but said a "softer connection," or a marine ferry system, is more likely.

"My gut reaction, I'm leaning toward a softer connection," Von Scheben told the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Von Scheben said he did not know whether that the ferry would be a 24/7 operation.

"I like the idea of a bridge, but I want to make sure we have the bucks for it," Von Scheben said.

The cost estimate of the original preferred bridge alternative had risen 20 percent because of rising steel, construction and labor costs since 2003, when it was estimated at $190 million.

The cost estimate now is up to $320 million and the state is looking at different alternatives.

In July, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly said it preferred a new design, which crosses Pennock Island and meets with the Gravina Island Highway that is under construction.

The Assembly on Monday added other alternatives, which included improved ferry access, for the state to review.

Von Scheben said he doubted that there would be any chance of getting any more federal funds for the project and there are competing Alaska projects that need funding.

"I'm having a hard time sorting out funding," Von Scheben said.

DOT Southeast Region Director Mal Menzies said there was a Congressional earmark for $220 million for the bridge in 2005, but with the negative national publicity about the bridge, the earmark was stripped. He said the state spent some of the money on other projects.

Menzies said around $113 million was left, with $44 million going to the Gravina road system, leaving $68 to $70 million.

Menzies said the department could support a project in the $200 to $250 million range and was pleased the Assembly had added more alternatives for the state to review.

Three ferry alternatives were included in the original environmental impact statement with estimated life-cycle costs - meaning the engines would be replaced in 25 years and the ferries replaced after 50 years - between $90 to $100 million and an annual operating and maintenance cost of around $5 million.

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