When I go to Haines next weekend, I've got to meet Roger Maynard. For a fresh new look at issues in Alaska, I invite you to visit his website: http://www.rogermaynard.net . It is with Roger's explicit permission I bring you the following.
I'm sure you've all read about the supposed boondoggle of the "Bridge to Nowhere". Many of us within the state understand the real story. We've all discussed it at one time or another, but I've got to admit, Roger's got me beat when it comes to telling this story!
Once again Ketchikan's Gravina Access Project is in the news. Ten years ago we thought the bridge was expensive; now estimates are approaching $398 million. There are plenty of arguments pro and con-especially considering the price tag, but it's time to lose the misleading label, "Bridge to Nowhere."
News media pundits have described Ketchikan's Gravina Access project as a bridge from Ketchikan to an island with only a few dozen residents, but that's not an accurate picture. Each year over 500,000 people travel between Ketchikan and its international airport on Gravina Island. With no roads and limited boat service, the Ketchikan International Airport is the only way in and out of the city for most folks.
For those who are still having trouble picturing the transportation issue in this popular-but-isolated Alaskan city, let's use your home town as an example. Use your imagination:
- First, dig a moat around the International Airport near your town. Make that moat about a quarter to a half mile wide with varying terrain on both sides. Put ships in the moat-ships on which your community depends for its existence; ships tall enough to require a 200-foot clearance to pass under any bridge.
- Put one ferry on the moat that makes a round trip to the airport every thirty minutes. Charge each passenger 5 dollars to walk onto the ferry and ride one way; much more if they want to take their vehicles. The ferry is small, often filled to capacity, with minimal room for passengers to sit during the 7 or 8 minute ride across the moat.
- Make folks walk from the ferry to the airport terminal, uphill, on a concrete sidewalk (no escalator) that is sheltered from frequent wind and driving rain by a plexiglass roof and windscreen on one side. Most people carry their own bags regardless of size or number, age or infirmity, unless they want to pay a private "airporter" service for assistance.
- Now place your community emergency services on the side of the moat AWAY from the airport, except for one or two crash trucks and one or two firemen. In an emergency, additional ambulance personnel, firemen, rescuers, policemen and bomb technicians will all have to wait for the little ferry in order to respond to any emergency at the airport. All of your airport employees will ride the little ferry to work, and home again at the end of the day.
- Put a small parking lot near the ferry terminal on the city side of the moat, where folks can park while they stand in the rain and wait for the ferry.
Now that you've customized your airport to provide the same level of service as the Ketchikan International Airport, let's modify your town:
- Erase all of the roads leading into or out of your town. That's right, they don't exist. Your only way out is by ferry or air. You will likely find yourself flying several times a year.
- Surround your town with water and mountains, leaving little room for expansion or small industry of any kind.
- Add a statewide ferry system-a few 350-foot vessels that will carry up to 499 passengers. Let these boats stop in your town several times each week, usually at inconvenient hours; only once a week does a boat connect to Seattle, a 3-day trip each way. Make them comparatively expensive to ride.
- Finally, take another look at the small island on which the airport sits. It is quite large-95 square miles-with large areas of gentle terrain and room for some small industries, warehouses, shipping companies, boat marinas, recreational opportunities, parks, and some top-notch waterfront residential property.
Now that you have the picture, we can start discussing the proposed bridge. There is plenty to talk about in terms of costs, benefits, economics and aesthetics. Some folks are in favor of the project; some are against-but let's stick to the facts.
This is clearly a bridge to "somewhere." It's time to lose the politically inspired, misleading and insulting title, "Bridge to Nowhere."
Just goes to show you cannot judge a story with a sound bite!