After decades, Gravina Access Project Reaches Milestone
June 29, 2017
Last week, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) joined the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in signing the June 2017 Gravina Access Project Record of Decision and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
According to a news release from the Governor, the Alaska Department of Transportation is working closely with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough on design details of the various projects. Once those agreements are completed, the ADT&DOT can begin final design with a goal of starting construction before 2019 and completing by 2021.
Last fall, Governor Walker committed to investing in Ketchikan the $96.8 million originally allocated to the project. Estimated cost for the Gravina Access Project is $45 million. Additional potential linked developments on Gravina and Revillagigedo Islands would use the remainder of the original project funds. Federal money previously set aside for improving Ketchikan’s connection to the airport will be used to finance design, construction and related activities.
The purpose of the Gravina Access Project is to improve transportation between Ketchikan and Saxman on Revillagigedo Island and the Ketchikan International Airport.
On October 21, 2015, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced that it had decided to recommend the Gravina Access Project Alternative G4v as the state’s preferred alternative to the Federal Highway Administration. Alternative G4v does not include a new ferry service or new ferry terminals.
The selected alternative, G4v, includes:
The original nine build alternatives considered included six bridge alternatives and three ferry alternatives. Six build alternatives were determined reasonable in 2000. The Final EIS which was distributed to the public and federal and state agencies on July 30, 2004, identified Alternative F1 as the FHWA’s and DOT&PF’s Preferred Alternative. The FHWA issued a Record of Decision on September 15, 2004, and identified Alternative F1 as the Selected Alternative that would best satisfy the purpose of and need for the Gravina Access project while minimizing impacts on aviation, navigation, marine habitat, and the local economy. Alternative F1 would cross Tongass Narrows via Pennock Island with two bridges: a 200-foot bridge over the East Channel and 120-foot bridge over the West Channel.
The 2004 Preferred Alternative F1 included a road segment on Gravina Island to connect the bridge over West Channel to the Airport Access Road. The road segment, referred to as the Gravina Island Highway, started approximately 3.4 miles south of the airport runway and continued north to the intersection of the Airport Access Road and Lewis Reef Road. The DOT&PF had moved forward with construction of the Gravina Island Highway prior to Governor Palin’s announcement and completed construction of the highway in the fall 2008. The Gravina Island Highway cost approximately $26 million and is now open and provides public access to lands on Gravina Island. Access to the highway is by ferry.
In 2005 with the passage of a landmark transportation bill, approximately $223 million was included in the massive Highway Transportantion Bill passed on 07/29/05 for the Gravian Access Project with the requirement the Alaska State Legislature to approve approximately $65 million in matching funds for the project. - More...
In October 2006, then-Governor Frank Murkowski met with over two dozen Ketchikan officials and community leaders to reach a concensus on the proposed preferred Alternative F1. According to a 2006 news release, Governor Murkowski told the group that he was prepared to include a budget recommendation for the next year's capital budget to fund the difference between the $133 million of mostly federal money now in hand for the project and the $328 million the preferred alternative is estimated to cost. He said the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities was ready to begin committing funds to the project. Murkowski said, "We have a substantial portion of the funding, but the preferred alternative will reqire another $195 million."
However, in 2007, then-Governor Sarah Palin directed Alaska Transportation and Public Facilities to look for the most fiscally responsible alternative for access to the Ketchikan airport and Gravina Island instead of proceeding any further with the proposed $398 million Gravian Access bridge. Paline directed the funds to be utilized elsewhere in the state.
Then-Governor Sarah Palin said, "Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," said Governor Palin. "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." Governor Palin added, "Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened."
On Sept. 21, 2007, then-Governor Sarah Palin announced that the State could not fund the selected Alternative F1 bridge alternative identified in the Gravina Access Project Record of Decision and directed the Alaska Department of Transportation to look for the most fiscally responsible alternative for access to the airport and Gravina Island instead of proceeding further with Alternative F1. Monies approved by Congress in the 2005 Highway Transportantion Bill for the Gravina Access bridge was directed for use by Palin for use in other projects.
In 2008, the Federal Highway Administation and DOT&PF reassessed the nine reasonable alternatives evaluated in the 2004 FEIS, as well as six new alternatives or variations identified through agency and public comment during SEIS scoping. And again in 2009, these 15 alternatives, which include both bridge and ferry alternatives, underwent a screening process to determine if the alternatives were reasonable. Six build alternatives were determined reasonable in 2000.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in partnership with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) released the Gravina Access Project Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) for review and comment on June 21, 2013.
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), this Draft SEIS examined the social, economic, and environmental impacts of proposed alternatives to improve public access between Revillagigedo Island and Gravina Island. It also examines a No Action alternative.
In October 2015, Ketchikan Gateway Borough and City of Ketchikan officials were informed by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities that it is recommending the Gravina Access Project Alternative G4v as the state’s preferred alternative to the Federal Highway Administration. The estimated construction cost for the preferred alternative at the time were $23 million.
Last fall, Governor Walker committed to investing in Ketchikan the $96.8 million originally allocated to the Gravina Access project.
Althought the alternative bridge project was cancelled, the Gravina Island Highway, a 3.2-mile-long gravel highway located on Gravina Island was built at a cost of $28 million by Kiewit Pacific Co. of Anchorage. The highway was part of the cancelled bridge project that would have connected Gravina Island to Ketchikan. The highway was constructed anyway and was later nicknamed the Highway to Nowhere. In addition to the road itself, another $11 million was spent building a 700-foot-long tunnel under the Ketchikan airport runway to get to the Gravina Island Highway from the airport terminal.
The Ketchikan International Airport is owned by the State of Alaska and is operated by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. According to the KGB's website, it is the fifth busiest airport in Alaska.
Reporting and Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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