November 16, 2005

Nowhere Bridge Is Nowhere Now

Hatched by Dafydd

The Sierra Club, of all sources, is reporting that the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska has been stripped from the budget by the Senate Appropriations Committee:

The Senate Appropriations Committee removed earmarks for two controversial "bridges to nowhere" in Alaska: the Gravina bridge, which would connect Ketchikan to an island of 50 people, and the Knik Arm bridge, which would link Anchorage to a sparsely populated area. The projects have been the subject of strong criticism because of the general backlog of existing roads and bridges in desperate need of repair, especially those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. According to the National Association of Civil Engineers, one in four bridges nationwide is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, not including the damage from Katrina and Rita.

If the Sierra Club is correct (hey, first time for everything), this is excellent news indeed; these earmarks were terrible embarassments, not only for the majority Republicans but for the Senate and the United States itself. Let's keep our fingers crossed this isn't just some absurd misunderstanding!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 16, 2005, at the time of 5:51 AM

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» Two pounds off the pig from Common Sense Political Thought
That possibly the worst two items in the appropriations bill might be removed is nothing more than political eyewash. It’s a cover, which enables the Honorable Gentlemen to say, “Look, see, we’re fiscally responsible!” when al... [Read More]

Tracked on November 16, 2005 6:53 AM


The following hissed in response by: jackal

OK, the bridge to Gravina was a waste...maybe. People keep commenting that it was a bridge to an island of 50 people. What few people realized (or pointed out) was that Ketchikan's airport is on the Gravina side. And air is the only way out of the city (unless you take the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry)--there are no roads. So, the lack of a bridge meant that the entire population of Ketchikan, including the many-dozen-thousand-per-day in the summer tourist population, had to use the Gravina ferry to go from the airport into Ketchikan itself.

The only reason I say it may be considered a waste is that the residents of Ketchikan were perfectly happy using their ferry. If I lived there, I wouldn't be, because I always run late to the airport. But small town residents live in small towns like that because of the slower pace of life, and a ferry suited them just fine. (Of course, as tourism in Alaska increases, the ferry is just going to get more crowded. That's why there was such a push from Governor Murkowski and others to get the bridge built.)

As far as the Knik Arm bridge near Anchorage--that one is actually needed, so I don't appreciate it being called unnecessary. Most people were publicly in favor of the bridge because it would cut the commuting time to some parts of the Mat-Su Valley--Wasilla in particular--nearly in half. And many thousands of people commute in from Wasilla (currently about a 45-60 minute drive each way) every day, especially since housing is cheaper out there (mostly because Anchorage has run out of room to expand).

And that's the biggest but more or less unacknowledged (for several reasons) reason for the bridge: Anchorage's lack of space. Opposite Knik Arm are huge tracts of flatland, some of which is currently used for farming. With a bridge spanning the inlet, we can begin expanding Anchorage to the other side, relieving the stress on the housing market. It will very much a necessity in the next 20 years.

The question is whether federal funds should go to the bridge. That's an area in which I'm more likely to agree with you. Being a good fiscal conservative, I can't come up with too many strong reasons why they should. I suppose I could say it would help strengthen the national economy to allow the expansion of Alaskan industry and that many from outside our state (some of the 4 million tourists that passed through last year) would utilize the bridge to help them drive to the north, but those are weak arguments. So, I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this one. All I know is the bridges are good wavering is on the sources of their funding...

The above hissed in response by: jackal [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 1:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


The point is exactly what you touched on in your last paragraph: Those bridges may be wonderful ideas, but I live in California... why the heck should I have to pay for them?

What is "unnecessary" is federal funding for those bridges, and the many other items of pork in that budget. The fact is that Alaska gets huge revenues from the Prudoe Bay oil fields, money that is typically distributed to the citizens of your state; if those bridges are so important to Alaska, why not just reduce those oil-revenue payments enough to pay for them yourselves?

If that's too harsh (I know a lot of poor folks depend upon those payments), there should be enough money in the budget to pay for them out of general revenues.

Note, by the way, that a lot of oil is pumped out of California, Texas, and Florida offshore oil fields. You know how much revenue we citizens of those states get from that? Zero, that's how much. For Pete's sake, can't you pay for your own bridges, if you want them?

All I know is the bridges are good wavering is on the sources of their funding.

I'm not wavering at all: Senator-for-Life Ted Stevens got those porkbarrel budget items not because they benefitted the country but because he's a powerful Senate icon. Same with all the pork: it's in the interests of muscle flexing, not the interests of the nation.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 3:53 PM

The following hissed in response by: Master Shake

Should we expect another tantrum on the floor of the Senate? I hope Senator Stevens keeps his promise to resign and be "carried out of the Senate on a stretcher."

The above hissed in response by: Master Shake [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 8:09 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


Florida does not produce much oil. Most of the Gulf production is located from the Perdido River (Al-Fla border) through Texas (Central and Western Gulf). You might find this Dept. of Energy publication interesting:

Oh yeah, this last imbroglio over drilling off Florida killed a project off Alabama, which wanted the project because the interest from the lease sales, royalties, and severance taxes can be spent by the Legislature (the principal is invested by the RSA of Alabama and cannot be spent, thank you Fob James).

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 10:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: jackal


That's very similar to how the Alaska system works. The principal is invested, the legislature spends the income from the lease sales and royalties, and the people get half of the dividends and income from the investments. Seems to work rather well--enough that we don't have any state income or sales tax, and we get a $500-$1000 per year dividend.


I agree with you on the pork. I should have made my argument clearer. My main argument was that no one has a right to call the projects themselves a waste--they are useful ideas that are controversial because of the sheer cost and the sources of funding. (The term "bridge to nowhere" is a huge misnomer. How about the term "bridge to the airport"?)

However, when you're the beneficiary of a piece of pork, it's hard to remain idealistic and pure and not give in to the temptation of eating it. Thanks for snapping me out of that.

Re: using our Permanent Fund Dividends: Alaskans cherish the PFD program as a way for all of us to share in the wealth of our resources. Allowing us to spend the money as we see fit runs with the strongly independent (and conservative) Alaskan mentality--much better than letting the government waste it. (I wish more Alaskans would extend that sentiment to the rest of our government.) Attempts to take it away have nearly resulted in public lynchings. Having said that, my calculations say it would gain the state around $300 million in additional revenue per year--enough to pay for the Knik Arm bridge in just two years. That'll never fly, though.

The above hissed in response by: jackal [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2005 12:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


All right... how about allowing a consortium of private companies to build the bridge and charge whatever toll they want.

Being a private business concern, I'll bet they'd build the bridge for a heck of a lot less than the government would... and after twenty or thirty years, they would have paid off the bridge, and the rest is just income minus operating expenses.

The ferry would still be there for anyone who didn't want to drive on the private bridge.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2005 2:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: Jim

About the Bridge to America: Dafydd's Toll bridge was a good idea. It worked in pre-50s US, it works in Japan today (kinda works, a run on toll-ways from Satima City down past Tokyo to the Izu averages maybe as fast as 20 mph, -what with lineups at many many many toll booths etc.). It was a good idea in the past.

Today however in our US, government regulation and control tend to price the private builder out of the market. Like it or not (& I don't like it) we're tied to federal highway funding. Shucky darn, no one but government could afford to even write the Environmental Impact Statement for an I5 today -let alone start construction!

Jackal's comments on the Anchorage bridge are also quite valid. Anchorage is in a bowl (full bowl) with mountains around one half and water limiting building on the other side. A vein (not enough space to build an artery) carries overflow north to Eagle River where the professionals with the wherewithal aspire to live after their combat commute home.

South of Anchorage, past Girdwood is miles of road along miles of water beside miles of cliffs, leading down into the Kenai, -not an ideal city expansion area.

Subsequently across the inlet and the arm is the most viable option.

Personally I'd like to see no expansion and population influx here in Alaska but until the environmental groups get the message there is no room for people in their equations and they subsequently preach loudly that tree huggers should not breed and really good tree huggers don't let friends breed either, I'm afraid we'll have a constant population on the move to the Great land.

OK, of course I suffer from the Last House On The Block syndrome, For over 35 years I've not been able to see another house from my property and I'd like to keep it that way.

I'd like to see the Bridge to Alaska built, I'd like to see the Knik Arm bridge built so those moving to Alaska have space to live far south of me.

By the way all you who aspire to move to Alaska, contrary to popular belief the climate around Anchorage is far more temperate than in many parts of the mid-west!

The above hissed in response by: Jim [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2005 11:11 AM

The following hissed in response by: jackal

Re: Jim's last comment: yes, we're usually warmer in January and February than Chicago, Minneapolis, or Fargo. Less windy, too.

Dafydd, good idea. Don't know if it's possible, though, for the reasons Jim mentioned. Still, it needs to be done--just not with federal money, I guess.

Somewhat OT: I saw an incredible Discovery Channel special on bridging the Bering Strait. If you can catch it on DC reruns, watch it--it's incredible. That's a huge project, not only for the bridge itself (in the billions of dollars) but also for the interconnects: 800 miles of road and railroad on the Alaska side and 1200 miles of the same on the Russian side (to Vladivostok, which is the nearest connection point on the Russian road/rail system, if I remember correctly). But think of the thrill of being able to drive from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope! Such a project would benefit Alaska greatly as it would become even more of a shipping center than it already is, and shipping costs from the Far East to the U.S. may very well be reduced and sped up (trains that go 79mph are faster than boats that go 20mph).

Now THAT project I would definitely support using federal dollars for.

The above hissed in response by: jackal [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2005 11:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Fellahs, the subject of environmental regulations is a separate one; we need major reform there for everywhere, not just Alaska.

The purpose of an EIS should be to identify any significant environmental damage that may occur without special consideration while building; it should not be a back-door way for the federal government to effectively rezone certain state areas to prevent building entirely -- but that's what it ends up doing. The EIS itself becomes a barrier to development (which is just what the anti-technology, anti-development New Left wants).

Rather than fork over $500 million or more of federal money to build a bridge, think how much more effective it would be if environmental regulations were streamlined, so that it only took a year or two to clear such a project; and then the area were designated a federal "enterprise zone," meaning the developers did not need to pay federal taxes for the first few years of operation, making the project more profitable.

Then you would have a privately built and operated bridge (highway, airport, school, prison) without billions in federal dollars being funneled here and there, controlled by Congress.

And that last is the real reason this won't happen anytime soon: because most Congressmen would rather lose an arm than lose that economic control over the country.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2005 1:50 PM

The following hissed in response by: RonC

It’s pretty bad when Republicans act like Democrats - particularly elected ones in Congress - and the White House. Seems we’ve elected 536 idiots - give or take a dozen or so.

What I really hate though, is when I see Republican voters jumping on a Democrat bandwagon - particularly when they parrot the Democrat created “bridge to nowhere” phrase like a bunch of programmed robots.

That transportation bill is $286 Billion - and Alaska, finally, was going to get a little less than one two-hundred-and-eighty-sixth of what the lower 48 was to get - and that bridge would have taken .08 percent of the whole.

Seems pretty stingy to me - especially since Alaska didn’t see one dime of highway funds for 40 years after it became a state, yet paid taxes into the coffers that were spent in the lower 48 - and have not seen any more highway funds in the 30 years since then. New York City alone always gets 1 to 2 billion every year - California gets 3 plus billion on average. Florida? How much money do you suppose is spent there every year, on bridges - expansion, repair and upgrading - for Key West? Now, THERE’S a bridge to ‘no where.’

Point is - if you’re a liberal state, and ~have~ bridges - you can get multiple billions - but heaven help one of the most conservative states in the union, if they want $230 million for a much needed bridge.

I’m ashamed of Republicans that howl over this - and are relatively silent about a special $200 billion dollar bill - to rebuild New Orleans.

Too bad people don’t go up there and ride that damned ferry across that choppy channel in the winter, and freeze their butts off - they would too, if they sign up get on some of the many Alaska cruise ships that go out of there. Those six or seven flights a day into that airport carry tourists - who can’t believe there’s no road, no bridge from the airport to town. What I can’t believe is that we’re as damned selfish as we have obliviously become.

The above hissed in response by: RonC [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 18, 2005 6:14 AM

The following hissed in response by: RonC

Belay that 286 billion - they made it $318 billion.

I hope Bush uses his veto pen for the first time, as he said he would. If any state gets 'pork' in this bill, it ought to be Alaska. Every other state has had far more than their fair share, with the possible exception of New Mexico.

The above hissed in response by: RonC [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 18, 2005 6:25 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


First, I don't know about other states, but California is a net tax loser: we pay more into the system than we get out of it. (Most large states are net tax losers; most small states are net tax winners.)

Anent Alaska, I've been there; I was on a cruise to Glacier Bay. I really loved it, and I love the cold weather.

I've been across plenty of choppy channel crossings -- across the Irish Sea, for example, and out on a converted shrimp boat in the inaptly named "Pacific" Ocean with 35-foot swells. I enjoy that, too (I'm not subject to mal de mer or any other kind of motion sickness).

The point is that the feds should simply not be in the business of paying for ordinary infrastructure except for states that are total basket cases, such as Mississippi. The feds should be in the business of disaster relief -- but certainly not to the tune of "$200 billion," which is utterly ridiculous.

Second, of course nobody has appropriated anywhere near $200 billion for Katrina relief. The only amount appropriated that I'm aware of is a little under $60 billion.

Third, the reason I haven't discussed it is that by the time Big Lizards started (September 16th), the Katrina relief bill had already been talked to death by everybody else. I wanted to jump into current events, not past stuff.

It wasn't that I ignored the bill; it just fell into the period during which I was still finishing up the mechanics of Big Lizards and not blogging yet.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 18, 2005 6:58 AM

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