Alaska's 'bridge to nowhere' plan finally scrapped

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 23, 2015 8:03 PM

By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - A proposed Alaska bridge that became a symbol of wasteful federal spending on politicians' pet projects has officially been scrapped a decade after the idea was first floated, state officials said on Friday.

Dubbed the "bridge to nowhere," it would have connected the small city of Ketchikan to its airport on nearby Gravina island, and it secured a $223 million earmark in 2005.

The earmark for the project, in the southeast part of Alaska, was later rescinded.

State transportation officials have told local borough leaders of plans instead to upgrade a ferry system used to shuttle airport users to and from the island.

"This is a lower-cost alternative using existing assets," Jeremy Woodrow, Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman, said.

Nearly 10 years ago, the bridge brought national attention to the area, about 230 miles (370 km) south of the state capital, Juneau.

Earmarks of nearly $450 million to help finance two proposed bridges produced cries of outrage from opponents who saw the them as exemplifying federal waste. Alaska got the money in the end, but the earmarks were lifted.

In 2007, Governor Sarah Palin put the brakes on the Ketchikan project, where projected costs exceeded $400 million.

A year later, when she was the Republican vice presidential candidate, Palin made it a centerpiece of her speech to the Republican National Convention, telling the crowd she said, "Thanks but no thanks."

State officials had studied less expensive bridge options, Woodrow said, but opted to pursue upgrading the ferry facilities for those making the 15-minute water commute.

They are proposing a $23 million to upgrade ramp and other passenger facilities, said Woodrow, who added that construction was several years away.

(Reporting by Steve Quinn; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)