JUNEAU, Alaska – Alaska's so-called bridge to nowhere, derided by critics as an example of congressional earmarks run amok, appears dead.
State transportation department officials have spurned the idea of building a bridge to connect the southeast Alaska community of Ketchikan to its airport on a neighboring island. Instead, the department is endorsing the continued use of ferries to get people to and from the airport. Construction costs have been estimated at $23 million for such things as upgrading terminals and creating waiting areas for ferry passengers.
From there, officials would monitor traffic and decide if additional ferry service and terminals are warranted as another project, department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said Friday.
The selected alternative makes the most sense in terms of construction costs and traffic demands, he said.
Woodrow said the state still must finish the environmental review process.
Officials settled on a bridge alternative in 2004. But critics including Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain labeled the project a "bridge to nowhere." In 2007, the department said then-Gov. Sarah Palin directed it to find the most fiscally responsible alternative for access.
Improving access between Ketchikan and its airport on nearby Gravina Island has long been an issue; without a so-called hard link, like a bridge, public access is available by ferry.
Asked if a bridge remained a feasible option, Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III said the "financial times have made that decision for us."
"Everybody knows we don't have the money to build a bridge or maintain it or anything like that," he said.
While many in the community still would love to see a bridge, Williams said he doesn't see it happening for a long time, "unless we get some new management back in D.C."
The state-owned airport is operated by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. The borough has proposed improvements beyond what is included in the department's selected alternative, such as a satellite terminal on the Ketchikan side where people can check their bags and check in for flights and the replacement of an aging, existing ferry.
Borough manager Dan Bockhorst said it was his understanding that state transportation commissioner Marc Luiken, who met with local officials Thursday, would review the borough's proposal.
Woodrow said about $87.8 million remains of the money appropriated for the access project. Bockhorst said he wants it used to improve airport access, rather than having some of the funds diverted perhaps to other state projects.