Peninsula residents rethink bridge

Posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Support for a bridge across the Kenai River that would open up Funny River country has grown somewhat muted after Kenai Peninsula residents discovered they may have to pay a significant chunk of the bridge's cost.

The state said the Kenai Peninsula Borough would need to raise $1.25 million for the project. That's more than half the property tax receipts raised on the peninsula each year for rural roads.

The dormant Funny River bridge project was revived last year when $5 million in earmarked funds appeared in the federal budget, courtesy of Sen. Ted Stevens.

But the project, estimated to cost between $15 million and $25 million, also required matching funds of 20 percent.

State officials told the Kenai Peninsula Borough it would have to take over the project and tax its residents for construction and maintenance costs. The state had recently paved a 17-mile road to improve access to the same area.

Even longtime bridge backers believe fiscal conditions will not win much support for access to Funny River.

"I don't think it's going to pass," said Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, a bridge supporter. He thinks the borough should pressure the state to pay the local share.

Backers of the bridge say the new road to Soldotna is not enough. They say the area needs a second route for emergency vehicles and escape in case of wildfire. They also say a bridge would reduce the driving time to Anchorage by one hour.

"We still have the problem: only one way in or out," Funny River resident Warren Hoflich said last week.

But state transportation officials say the project is not high on their lists.

A new bridge would not be on the federal highway system and should have local backing, said Todd Van Hove, the Department of Transportation's Kenai area planner.

"Our position is the state wants as little to do with this as absolutely possible," Van Hove said.

The project is not a current priority for limited state funds, said state transportation spokesman John Manly.

The Funny River bridge faces other obstacles.

In the past, government resource agencies said a bridge could lead to an unregulated building boom along more of the Kenai River. One concern is that new roads and homes could choke off a vital brown bear migration route between the southern and northern Kenai Peninsula.

There is also local opposition to the bridge. Some Funny River residents say they moved to the area for the relative isolation.

"I got this place on this side because it was going to be a little more remote and a little more private," said Bill Ulich, who bought his riverfront land in the 1970s. About 700 people live in the area, with many more in summer.

The public can cast advisory votes on the Funny River bridge project in the October municipal election.

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