Friday, September 12, 2008

The Bridge to Nowhere: A Careful Analysis

I've been carefully listening to a lot of discussion on Alaska's famous Bridge to Nowhere. Being a stickler for facts I decided to get past the rhetoric and carefully look at the history of this controversial project:

  1. In September 2004, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its decision to build the Gravina Island Bridge (aka "The Bridge to Nowhere") at an estimated $230 Million. [Source]

  2. By February 2005 the cost estimate had grown to $315 Million. [Source]

  3. Of this amount, $223 Million was to come from federal funds. As well, $230 Million of federal funds was slated for the Knik Arm Bridge in Anchorage, resulting in a total of $453 Million for the two bridges. [Source]

  4. These funds were pushed for by Congressman Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens. [Source]

  5. On October 20, 2005 the U.S. Senate passed the H.R. 3058 [109th] Act, which included the 2006 National Appropriations Bill. The funding for the two Alaska bridges was included in this Bill. [Source]

  6. This Senate vote was 93 For and 7 Against. Among those 'Against' was John McCain. Among those 'For' were Barack Obama and Joe Biden. [Source]

  7. By the time the Bill had been passed, the total amount of federal funding for the two bridges has been decreased to $442 Million. [Source]

  8. On November 16, 2005 the U.S. Congress stripped the specific earmark allocation of $442 Million in federal funds for the Gravina Island and Knik Arm Bridges in Alaska. Thus Alaska lawmakers and the governor were left to distribute it for transportation projects as they saw fit, including still building the bridges if they so chose. [Source]

  9. In September 2006, during the Alaska Governor's campaign, Sarah Palin did express her support for the bridge. [Source]

  10. Sarah Palin was elected Governor of Alaska on November 7, 2006. [Source]

  11. In the first 10 months in her role as Governor, public opinion against wasteful spending grew. She reflected upon this and eventually changed her mind, even though her decision was extremely unpopular with some fellow Republicans. [Source]

  12. By September 2007 the estimated cost of the bridge had climbed to $398 Million. [Source]

  13. On September 21, 2007 Governor Sarah Palin announced that the bridge project would be canceled. In doing so she said the following: "Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer. Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island." In the same press release the following was stated: "The Department of Transportation has approximately $36 million in federal funds that will become available for other projects with the shutdown of the Gravina Island bridge project. Governor Palin has directed Commissioner Leo von Scheben to review transportation projects statewide to prepare a list of possible uses for the funds, while the department also looks for a more affordable answer for Gravina Island access." [Source]

  14. On the same day the Alaska Department of Transportation commissioner, Leo von Scheben said the following: "There is no question we desperately need to construct new roads in this state, including in southeast Alaska, where skyrocketing costs for the Alaska Marine Highway System present an impediment to the state's budget and the region's economy." [Source]

  15. After Sarah Palin was nominated by John McCain to be his VP, her communications director, Bill McAlister, was asked why she had initially supported the bridge. He said: "It was never at the top of her priority list, and in fact the project isn't necessarily dead ... there's still the potential for improved ferry service or even a bridge of a less costly design. [She changed her mind when] she saw that Alaska was being perceived as taking from the country and not giving, and that impression bothered her and she wants to change it. ... I think that Sarah Palin is someone who has the courage to reevaluate situations as they developed." [Source]

Those are the facts of the situation, highly referenced by yours truly. In the interest of accuracy, if anyone has any references that dispute anything outlined above, I would most welcome them.

Political Question: If you were the Governor of any state and had received federal funds which you were allowed to use on any transportation project, would you return those funds even though your state were in great need of transportation infrastructure improvements?

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