'Bridge to nowhere' debate resurfaces

Sept. 26, 2011 at 8:46 AM
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NOME, Alaska, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Backers of a bridge in Alaska derided as pork in the 2008 presidential campaign still are trying to get public funding and private investors, observers said.

The "bridge to nowhere" and a related project each sought more than $200 million in federal dollars to build a bridge to a sparsely populated area, but neither got earmarked federal funds.

But the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, or KABATA -- the organization behind the bridge project -- still is courting private investors and capturing state financial backing, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

"The interest in the Knik Arm Crossing project is amazing," Alaska state Sen. Linda Menard posted on her Facebook page this summer. "I've just finished meetings in New York City with the largest investment companies on Earth. All of them are vying to be chosen to partner with Alaska to build the bridge."

KABATA and its supporters maintain the bridge is needed, the Post said. It would start near the port of Anchorage and Elmendorf Air Force base, span a body of water known as Knik Arm and end at the borough of Matanuska-Susitna.

Financial analyst Jamie Kenworthy said traffic wouldn't be enough to justify the costs, which he estimated could exceed $4 billion. An anticipated $5 toll would give people incentive to use existing free highways.

KABATA wants the Alaska to make what Menard called "periodic, contractual availability payments" that would allow private contractors to meet bond payments. The payments would exceed toll revenue until population and bridge use rise. But if car traffic was to fall short of expectations, the state would foot the bill.

"Anyone who got beyond seventh-grade math would know that the private sector wouldn't do that," said Kenworthy, a critic of the bridge. "Only the taxpayers would do that."

Meanwhile, the Matanuska-Susitna borough is taking ownership of a federal government-provided ferry, the result of a years-old earmark by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

One catch: Neither Matanuska-Susitna nor Anchorage has a ferry terminal, the Post said. Storage costs more than $1 million annually and selling it would be costly because of a lack demand and the borough would have to repay millions of dollars to the government.

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