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House bill blocks spending on Alaska bridges


June 15, 2006
Thursday AM

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House passed a bill Wednesday that prohibits Alaska from spending its federal transportation dollars on two controversial "bridges to nowhere."

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., added a provision to the annual transportation spending bill last week that prohibits the state from spending any of this year's appropriation on bridges from Ketchikan to Gravina Island or across the Knik Arm from Anchorage.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, a steadfast champion of both bridges, did not try to take the measure out during the debate over the bill. His spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, said he opted against a battle on the floor and instead will try to remove the bridge spending prohibition when the bill is reconciled with the Senate version in a conference committee.

"He's been assured by the speaker (of the House) that he's going to have a seat at the table at conference," she said.

The bridges, particularly the Gravina Island bridge, have been the targets of widespread public scorn. Young succeeded in including nearly $500 million for the projects in the five-year transportation bill last year. But other Republicans and budget watchdogs, not to mention comedians and talk-show hosts, pointed to the spending as the epitome of wasteful congressional pork.

Under mounting ridicule, Congress stripped the earmarks from the legislation in a later bill. But Alaska was allowed to keep the money, and state officials announced that even though they were now free to spend the money on other transportation projects, they intended to keep spending it on the bridges.

Jeff Ottesen, program development director for the Alaska Department of Transportation, said he was also concerned about a sentence in Kirk's amendment that prohibits the federal government from reimbursing the state for bridge expenses. That could leave the state on the hook for several million dollars of work that is already underway, Ottesen said.

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