Don't spend Gravina money yet

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2007

Before Ketchikan residents and their representatives get too strident criticizing Gov. Sarah Palin over canceling the Gravina bridge project, we should remember she agreed with Ketchikan's Sen. Bert Stedman and Rep. Kyle Johansen to put $46 million in the state budget to complete the Swan Lake-Tyee Lake Intertie.

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And if it goes like most projects, it probably will require a few more millions for completion. That is an important project, a first step for a Southeast Alaska power grid. It could lead to selling excess power to British Columbia, further boosting Southeast's economy.

That does not mean giving up on better access to Gravina. And the governor says she and her commissioner of transportation will be looking at more economic access, hinting strongly at improved ferry service. That really is no answer, not when it costs $20 for a ride to the airport and inhibits Gravina development.

Before settling on ferry service, the governor and her DOT should go back to October 2000 when the department issued a tabloid newspaper outlining 19 alternatives for Gravina access. Some were cheaper, and so was the preferred alternative when first selected. It is the revisions since that drove the price higher.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski saw this in his first year in office. He asked prominent Alaska engineer Dennis Nottingham of PND, a firm with extensive Alaska experience, to draw up an alternative. He did. It was a tube from Peninsula Point to Gravina. It cost less than the preferred alternative.

The governor liked the idea, but he didn't like starting over with the Federal Highway Administration. It would take four years to get the new route approved by FHA. So Murkowski stuck with the preferred alternative.

He understood what Palin and others with an eye on Gravina Island money apparently don't understand. Sen. Ted Stevens recently warned them of it. When the money in the federal highway trust fund is divided among the states every five years, the states have to submit a five-year plan of highway projects and FHA has to approve the plan and the projects. The state can't just take the money and do as it wishes, or the federal government can take the money back. Stevens warned that the unused Gravina money could be recalled until the FHA approves a revised state highway plan. So don't spend it yet, friends.

Re-examining the Nottingham recommendation is a good idea along with re-examining the other 19 alternatives advanced in 2000.

In the meantime, northern Alaska critics of spending money on the Gravina crossing are exhibiting their ignorance and enjoying stomping on what they perceive as Ketchikan's grave. One junior journalist says everything should be stopped on Gravina, including the tunnel at the end of the airport.

The tunnel was never part of the Gravina crossing project. There is, and has been, a road around the south end of the airport, serving parts of Gravina aside from the airport.

After a jetliner ran off the runway at Chicago a few years ago and landed on a freeway with fatal results, the Federal Aviation Administration decided that it needed to lengthen runways at many major airports around the country, including Ketchikan. FAA settled on a tunnel for the road under the extended runway.

We asked our contemporaries in journalism and politics, do we want a knock-down, drag-out, section-against-section battle, or do we want to solve the state's problems and move ahead united?

In case our friends aren't frozen into a trash-Ketchikan mindset, we point out that the road from the airport to the site of the proposed Gravina crossing has a value on its own, even without a bridge. Extending the road another three miles to the end of Gravina Island reaches Black Sand Beach State Park. Putting a landing there for the Metlakatla ferry Lituya, provides faster and cheaper access to the airport for the people of Metlakatla and maybe even some along South Tongass.

P.S. Incumbents were re-elected Oct. 2 to the Ketchikan Borough Assembly, which recently passed a resolution commending Stevens. They beat the Stevens critics, such as Tongass Conservation Society, 2-1.

• Lew Williams can be reached at lmwjr@worldnet.att.net.



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