My Turn: Lew Williams: 'Spend every penny on things we don't need'

Posted: Friday, November 02, 2007

Why Lew Williams Jr. is continually given editorial space in the Juneau Empire is one of the small mysteries in this world. Williams' unending promotion of unrealistic and economically unsustainable projects reached a new rhetorical level the other day in the Empire ("Alaska Faces Transportation Problems, Oct. 29).

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Williams started out by ripping the current governor, Sarah Palin, for canceling Ketchikan's infamous and expensive "Bridge to Nowhere" and then advocated for a list of projects that he believes ought to be built. Palin and the Alaskan public deserve better.

Palin rightly and intelligently pulled the plug on the Bridge to Nowhere. The purpose, need and financing for the Bridge to Nowhere doomed the project. Faced with the prospect of declining federal transportation dollars and obvious needs to build necessary transportation projects in other Alaskan communities, Palin courageously canceled one of the unnecessary pet projects advanced by her predecessor.

Having chastised Palin for halting a hugely expensive and unnecessary pork project, Williams then advocates for construction of a variety of projects, including a road to McCarthy, the Bradfield Road and a road from Sitka across Baranof Island. In reality, none of these expensive projects make economic or practical sense.

The Bradfield Road linking southern Southeast Alaska with British Columbia would be hugely expensive, without economic justification and faces significant opposition in British Columbia. The community of Sitka is not favorably disposed to a road route across Baranof Island, terminating in a forlorn ferry terminal. An upgraded road to McCarthy will dead end (as it does now), in a wildly beautiful place without promoting significant economic activity.

Williams seems not to care about the cost of these expensive new projects. His is a faith-based initiative: Build the roads and all will be well. Williams proposes to fund these extravagant projects with bonds or by tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund.

I for one am weary of the shrill voices calling for vast expenditures of public funds to be spent on speculative road and infrastructure projects of dubious merit. Why should we saddle future generations with bond debt for roads that are expensive and unnecessary? Why would any thoughtful Alaskan seek to raid the permanent fund to pay for dead-end roads and bridges to nowhere?

Alaska has abundant resources to pay for necessary infrastructure. As a state we need to take care of what we have and improve the roads, bridges and other infrastructure we all use before constructing follies.

Williams suggests that "moxie," "drive" and "vision" are the essential components missing in contemporary Alaska. I disagree. The discredited transportation policies and crazy plans cooked up by Gov. Frank Murkowski and his true believers were based on a "vision" forcefully put forward with abundant "drive." The trouble with these visionary plans is that they were disconnected from reality.

It's time for Alaskans to become serious about spending funds on necessary projects that promote genuine safety and economic enterprise. Our state needs to get back to the basics and stop blowing public funds planning for expensive projects that will never be built.

• Joe Geldhof is an attorney and Juneau resident.



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