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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Where is the Knik Arm Bridge REALLY Going?

Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere?” Remember the project that was possibly the single biggest contributor to the tainting of the word “earmarks?”

That famous title was actually a misnomer. It referred to two Alaska bridges, both funded through the same “earmark” at the time. The actual “Bridge to Nowhere” referred to the Gravina Island Bridge, which was a link from Ketchikan to the island that holds its airport. This was only accessible by ferry and small plane and when hundreds of thousands of visitors pour into Southeast Alaska during the summers, it becomes a problem. This was also the bridge that Sarah Palin famously claimed to be against when she was actually for it.

That bridge project is still being federally funded…most recently, through H.R. 662 Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011.

It’s the Knik Arm Bridge that caused both projects to become a point of scathing anger for Congressional watchdogs who saw the cost…and the fact that our Alaska Representative to the House, Don Young, egotistically planned to call it “Don Young’s Way.” That combination made both projects that much more controversial and newsworthy.

The purpose of the Knik Arm Bridge was to provide a closer, faster link between Anchorage and the rapidly-growing population in the Mat-Su Valley. The fact that the Valley-side of the bridge was undeveloped land owned by some of the most prominent families (starts with “murk”) and developers in Alaska made a number of folks suspicious as to the motivation. However, promises of shorter commute times and more opportunities for new housing developments were enough to keep many folks interested.

Well, the project is still very much alive and kicking. As a matter-of-fact, the Alaska Legislature just gave them another $150 mil in state funds to go along with the recent acquisition of $1.4 mil out of the operating budget. However, it seems that not all of the promises are turning out to be viable.

Actually, according to a report from the non-partisan Legislative Research Services, it doesn’t seem that even the most basic promise seems to be working out. Remember those shorter commutes?

According to KABATA, travel times will not change once the bridge is operational.

Also, the Anchorage Daily News piece points out several of these particularly disturbing reversals:

Bridge opponents object to state funding, saying it was supposed to be financed through driver tolls. The requested $150 million would likely turn out to be a first installment from the Legislature, they say.

“It’s to make up for the false promise by the KABATA folks that they would be able to finance this project privately,” said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara. “The truth is that no private company is going to build a bridge that’s going to have almost no commuters, a bridge that takes you longer to get to Palmer and Wasilla.”

Representative Gara is highlighting the fact that the KABATA board (Knik Arm Bridge And Toll Authority) initially claimed that the bridge would “pay for itself” with tolls by the using public. It turns out that those tolls would be $10.00 per round trip. How many daily commuters are going to pay that? Plus, now the board is revealing that those tolls will not cover the cost “in the first few years” of the bridges operation. Many experts say that “never” is a closer estimation as to when the bridge will pay for itself.

Another difficult fact to digest: the $1.4 mil out of the operating budget is to pay the salaries ($144,000 each) and benefits ($66,000 each) of KABATA employees.

Watchdog organization, Alaska Conservation Voters, understands that the bridge issue is a complicated one. Led by former executive director of the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation (and recent “Moore Up North” panalist) Jaimie Kenworthy, they created an excellent video to help explain the issues surrounding the Knik Arm Bridge. They used several of the best known talented Alaska actors and put it all in the context of something many people have experienced, buying a home.

What would happen if the folks pushing the Bridge to Nowhere, the proposed Knik Arm Bridge, had to go to the bank to ask for a loan? Watch You Tube video as two of Alaska’s best actors, Alice Welling and Mark Muro, answer that question for you as things go from bad to worse in this sharp funny comparison to the recent housing crash.

The real numbers in the current financial plan by the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority are exactly 1000 times worse than the ones Nick Bridge uses to try to get a home mortgage from the smart loan officer who is at first incredulous, and then befuddled, as she’s drawn into the classic nightmare deal.



24 Responses to “Where is the Knik Arm Bridge REALLY Going?”
  1. Feliznavidad says:

    Bravo! Well-acted and great script. Makes it all so clear.

  2. Cortez says:

    Living in Wasilla for the past 30 years, I never heard anyone try and tell us that the bridge would cut commute times for us. Not sure that was ever promoted as a selling point. I do know it will be a significant reduction in driving time for anchoragites going north of Wasilla for recreation, and for points north of Big Lake going to anchorage. For the sake of disclosure, I do own a half acre parcel somewhere in the Pt. Mac area that I bought sight unseen 20 years ago as a favor to a friend that was in some serious financial problems. I have no idea who the other major landholders are, other than I have heard the Mat-Su borough, university of Alaska and the native corporations have holdings there. That said I believe the bridge will be a worthwhile project that will benefit workers in anchorage looking for affordable homes, and the Mat-Su borough in increasing their tax base. Anchorage is out of room for development, a bridge will open up vast amounts of land. With the price of fuel going up, people won’t mind paying a toll if it means they can have an affordable piece of land. That’s what drove the boom growth in the valley before, people willing to commute in exchange for an affordable home.

  3. jamie kenworthy says:

    Great post on history and project.

    A few small corrections. The bills to provide a state guarantee to finance the project passed both Transportation Committees, the bill to provide a $150 million in General Fund dollars passed the Senate and both bills are waiting action in the Finance Committees of both houses. (It took only took 1 or two R votes to pass in both committees with other Rs and Ds voting No Report so the bills moved on.)

    The project is not in the draft capital budget released on the Senate side and while it is unlikely for either bill to get a hearing this late this year, next year the bills can start at the Finance Committee. So the threat of an open ended blank check by the state for the Bridge remains.

    I am on the Conservation Voters Board but on this project am acting as an individual working with the Government Hill Community Council and other volunteers.

  4. AKjah says:

    Thanks Linda. I would never have seen that vid had you not put it up. I still find it odd there is no daily commuter rail service to the vally. And i have always for years enjoyed Alice Welling.

  5. Rick says:

    Great job Mark! Hope to see you this summer.


  6. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    Well, Jason in Oakland has broached a very interesting topic has he not? If you peel off the thin skin of private enterprise a whole lot of it depends upon things like infrastructure, that are paid for and built by the collective society. Could the oil companies sell their fuel to us if it weren’t possible to truck their 66,000 lb. loads of fuel to the distribution points? Could they have built their pipelines without government mandated right-of-ways? Could they import 11 million barrells of oil a day without port facilities?

    Take another quick example. Health care. Most US doctors are educated at universities and hospitals that are subsidized by government, (when you see government read the collective society). Without those doctors, what exactly would health insurance companies have to sell? Without basic research almost exclusively paid for by government, what could those doctors do to treat illnesses? Does anyone know of any health insurance agency that invests in basic research?

    I’d go on but I think the point is made. With regard to this bridge issue it seems that the problem is very simple. A lot of vested interests who happen to own the land on the other side of the inlet
    would love to have a nice bridge built at someone else’s expense so it would be easier to subdivide and sell their land and make a pile of money. But one has to ask, what is the benefit to be gained from such an undertaking by the collective society? To me it seems obvious. Let the entrpeneurs sell their real estate and develop their holdings, and when there is a significant population residing on the other side of the Knick arm, then and only then consider the tradeoffs of building a bridge.

  7. Jason in Oakland says:

    Hmmmm. Let’s see. Should we be for the bridge or against it? Just kidding. Seriously, most large transportation projects such as trains, highways and even the airline industry, are not possible as for-profit initiatives. Individual airlines are run as commercial entities, on top of the massive infrastructure paid for by tax payers. Every retailer in the country (who sells goods trucked into their stores) should bow down in homage to the country’s ports. It’s too bad it was a political football for the rest of nation and not addressed on it’s facts. Oh well, thanks Satah.

  8. gm.starshine says:

    Amen readers – I live in Juneau and so many times I have not made it in here flying and had to overnight in Ketchikan in the middle of the winter. It is such fun to ride that steamy little ferry across the bouncing main. Then walk a mile or two to the only available hotel through slush and mush. I think the Ketchikan bridge is needed. I couldn’t believe it when Palin said she didn’t support the “bridge to no-where”, but then, if its not in Wasilla, its not in Alaska to here. What a little bird-brained twerp.

  9. Moose Pucky says:

    And how much would it have cost to expand Denali Kid Care?

  10. blue moose says:

    They have already invested in a ferry, they better be sure they can fill that before considering a bridge.

    • sali says:

      Well, the ferry is up and running, sort of. Mat-Su has the dock, etc. on its side of the inlet, and the ferry would be a nice ride, assuming there’s a place in Anchorage to off-load, but certainly would not save enough time to make the cost worthwhile. Consider: one must first get to the port area and hope the ferry is there and has already off-loaded. Otherwise, you wait, que up, pay up, load up. Not very quick, as I recall from my ferry-riding days. Once at the other side, the process is reversed, except the for pay part. Maybe someone could work on developing a system using two pneumatic tubes, one in each direction.

      • Moose Pucky says:

        And the Gov. turned down federal money for another ferry in SE. Along with turning down money for the Affordable Health Care Act.

        Just have to wonder about Alaska’s priorities.

  11. Shooty says:

    Your numbers are wrong.

    You write “the Alaska Legislature just gave them another $150 mil in state funds to go along with the recent acquisition of $1.4 mil out of the operating budget.”

    According to the ADN, however, the legislature only appropriated $1.4 million of FEDERAL funds. Not STATE funds. Moreover, the $150 million in state funds have only passed committees, they have not passed either side of the Legislature.

    We should not join bridge supporters in making inaccurate claims about this stupid project.

  12. slipstream says:

    I want one of those $144,000 jobs for doing nothing except asking for more funding! Oh, and I will need $66,000 in benefits too.

    Mike, the local pronunciation is Kuh-NICK.

  13. Marilyn says:

    All that money should be going to Ketchikan to complete THAT bridge….it goes SOMEWHERE (an airport) which people use in a steady stream every single day of the year. This is just another super nova plan to rid Alaska of any creds for honesty, integrity or ethics. As a life long Alaskan, almost everything our legislature does sickens me.

  14. mike from iowa says:

    So what’s the pronunciation? Is it Knik as in New York Knick or Kinnick as in Nile Kinnick,University of Iowa Heisman Winner and all around grand fellow?

  15. Zyxomma says:

    This is an incredible short film. I hope it’s widely seen in Alaska; it makes the whole thing so easy to comprehend. Thanks for posting, Linda.

  16. Bob Benner says:

    There will be plenty of empty houses in Anchorage once the Pipeline shuts down… No need for a bridge…

  17. Alaska Pi says:

    It’s pitiful that projects like this take on a something akin to mass and movement which is hard to impossible to stop even when the plan and reality collide in a great rending crash.
    Hey Leg!
    What about the power intertie projects in SE?
    What about the water and sewer projects in the YK?
    Folks may not be able to fully offset the costs of those but a greater human benefit would accrue, ya know?

    Howz about spending more of those oil tax dollars in rural Alaska from which so many of them flow?

  18. I See Villages From My House says:

    Pinwheel, couldn’t you have said “late” wife?

    That said, thank you AKM for bringing this lingering albatross to the forefront again.

    Aren’t we simply the nicest State in the Union?

    It’s nice that Anchorage and the State want to give people money back when there is a surplus via of the energy rebate and the Muni overage (nevermind getting public transit routes restored, people don’t have to get to work or school or anything.) It’s nice that the State wants to throw money at bridges, pipelines and udders to nowhere, but we’ve still got third world sanitary, housing and energy conditions in 3/4ths of the State.

    Priorities, it goes to those with the means and wherewithal to utilize public tools to subsidize their pet projects that benefit only the immediate population, not a statewide responsibility. It must be nice.

  19. Evelyn says:

    In the olden days, when money was set aside to build a bridge, it was used to build the bridge. Don Young earmarks money to do studies, pay inflated salaries and expenses (trips to see other bridges in exotic locations), and of course pensions. The point is not building the bridge, the point is feathering the nests of some very well connected birds.

  20. Pinwheel says:

    It’s not just the name of the bridge. Don Young has named the roads for his dead wife and perhaps children. Nice drive out to there. But not welcoming.

    I tried to tell the story, electronics threw me out. Read the road signs yourselves, try to get to Pt. McKenzie. Why can’t they finish Goose Creek? Consider this, deal with Sen. Ted Stevens to relieve Gitmo. Run that around the block.

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