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A Bridge to Somewhere


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They call the proposed 8,200-foot, $687 million Knik Arm Crossing a Bridge to Nowhere, but in actuality it’s a bridge to Alaska’s future.

At a recent Senate Transportation Committee overview of the project, about a half dozen or more presenters spoke in favor of the project and what it means to the state.

In attendance was Michael Foster, chair of the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority; Andrew Niemiec, KABATA’s executive director; and KABATA Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hemenway. Also testifying were former Gov. Bill Sheffield of the Port of Anchorage, three members of the Alaska Trucking Association (Aves Thompson, executive director; Lisa Marquiss, president; George Lowery, secretary-treasurer/also Tote Alaska director), and the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities Commissioner Frank Richards.

“Governor Sheffield said it best when he said, ‘Let’s grow up,’” said Marquiss, who is also regulatory compliance director for Carlile Transportation Systems. “It’s a bridge to growth and opportunity.”

It’s not that Alaska doesn’t have bridges – there are about 850 statewide, but this one is unique as it will allow a second corridor from Anchorage north to connect the municipality with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Currently, the Glenn Highway is the only way to get to Eagle River, Palmer, Wasilla and other northern communities. If an earthquake or natural disaster blocked the four-to-six lane highway, then these communities would be cut off from the rest of the state, except for barge and the up-and-coming Knik Arm ferry.

KABATA was established by the Alaska Legislature to “develop, stimulate and advance the economic welfare of the state and further the development of public transportation systems in the vicinity of the Upper Cook Inlet,” said Foster. It will also make access easier for vehicles, trucks and perhaps, eventually, trains to access Interior Alaska, saving truckers and private drivers millions of dollars over its first 10 years of operation. Truck freight savings to the Interior is estimated at $326 million, and pocketbook savings for Alaska drivers is estimated at $303 million.

The toll bridge ($5 each way for passenger vehicles) will provide 5,000 construction-related jobs and 5,000 indirect support services positions. It also comes with environmental benefits, reducing carbon emissions by nearly 2 million metric tons in the first 10 years.

“It’s not in competition with Anchorage,” said Foster. “It’s a win-win for both communities.”

The Mat-Su is in the top 1 percent of fastest growing counties in the U.S. and combined communities represent 54 percent of Alaska’s population, according to a July 1, 2009, population estimate done by the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, Anchorage will see about 362,000 individuals, up from 2009’s 286,174, and the Mat-Su will have a 50 percent growth to 170,000 residents up from 88,379, according to studies.

“Population (growth) is one of the big deciding factors for the project,” said Foster. “And people will save a lot of money.”

“It’s a big project, it will take a lot of doing, a lot of effort,” said Sheffield. “Bridge support has been in existence since I arrived here in 1953.” Not only will it support the transportation sector, but also major state development projects such as natural resource development and the natural gas pipeline.

With 56 percent statewide public support, according to a Dittman Statewide Survey of 1,000 Alaskans, construction is projected to be completed on the three-lane bridge (with a four-lane foundation) in 2015 after a three-to-five-year construction period. According to KABATA’s report, yet to be done is a biological opinion, record of decision, finalized project delivery method, complete procurement, commercial and financial close, notice to proceed and acquire right-of-way.

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