By LIZ RUSKIN
Anchorage Daily News
October 01, 2005
This week, the state's Green Party asked Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to relinquish the $454 million he obtained for the Knik and Ketchikan bridges and redirect the money to Louisiana and other hurricane-damaged states.
So did the head of the conservative Eagle Forum Alaska.
"Many Alaskans were already alarmed at the massive amounts of spending by the federal government, and the recent disasters in the Gulf states makes these outrageous numbers even more alarming," said Debbie Joslin, president of the 1,000-member state Eagle Forum.
Anchorage resident Gene Storm, a freelance editor, hastily formed a group called Alaska's Bridge to Unity and is gathering signatures of Alaskans who want Congress to redirect the bridge money.
Emily Ferry, coordinator of a group called the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, went a step further, launching a Web site called americagivesback.org. It provides an electronic form so visitors can instantly write their Congress members and urge them to give up transportation projects to help hurricane victims.
More than 745 people have used the Web site to write to their representatives since the feature debuted on Tuesday.
To make a dent, the movement has to be nationwide, Ferry said.
"It can't just be Alaska or California or Indiana," she said.
The site provides a link to all the pet projects in the bill. These "earmarked" projects total more than $24 billion, across the country. Alaska's total about $1 billion.
"Make your message even stronger by offering to give back specific projects from your state," the site invites.
But the two Alaska bridges are every critic's poster pork for the perceived excesses in the five-year national highway bill Young ushered through Congress in July.
The bill has $231 million for the Knik bridge, which would provide an alternate route from Anchorage to the Mat-Su valleys, home to thousands of commuters as well as undeveloped acreage that Anchorage developers yearn for.
The bill also has $223 million for a bridge to connect Ketchikan to largely unpopulated Gravina Island, which holds the airport. Supporters say it will give Ketchikan much needed room to grow and also allow the city's residents to get to their airport without boarding a ferry boat.
Even before Hurricane Katrina struck, groups as far apart as the Sierra Club and the Heritage Foundation criticized the bridges as pork, often calling them "bridges to nowhere." As the devastation in New Orleans sickened people across the country, the call to give back the bridge money grew.
Both Joslin and Storm said they thought the bridges were too expensive all along, but it was the hurricanes that inspired them to action.
Alaska, Storm said, is part of the American family, and Americans in Gulf states are suffering.
"If you have a serious illness in the family, you don't use the money for a trip to Disneyland," he said.
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