By SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News
November 18, 2005
Now that Congress has dropped its demand that $223 million be used for the bridge, Alaska legislators are eyeing that money for other things.
State House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he started taking a closer look at the bridge project after he saw how it was getting slammed all across the nation. He said he thinks there are more important construction needs in Alaska.
"I have not been convinced that it would be the best economic thing to do," the North Pole Republican said. "It's going to be a hard sell (in the Legislature)."
While it dropped the bridge language, Congress left the money in the bill for Alaska.
In Anchorage and Fairbanks, lawmakers Thursday said there might be better things to spend money on than a bridge connecting Ketchikan to Gravina Island.
Many legislators were mad that much of the bridge money would have been deducted from federal dollars from construction projects in other areas of the state.
"Folks in Anchorage were very upset and shocked . . . to hear that the bridges counted against our ability to address other, more pressing transportation needs in Southcentral and the Interior," said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, the Senate minority leader.
Even with the federal money, the Legislature would need to appropriate almost $100 million in state funds in order to get the Ketchikan bridge built.
"My gut feeling is we wouldn't do that," said Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, who is in charge of the construction budget in the state House.
Congress this week also dropped the proposed Knik Arm bridge - connecting Anchorage directly to Mat-Su - from its "earmark" list but is sending that $229 million to Alaska too.
The Knik crossing shared in national criticism over Alaska's "bridges to nowhere." But there seems to be more support for it in the Legislature.
Legislators argued that growing Anchorage needs access to land and its bridge is more important than Ketchikan's.
"That makes more sense to me than a bridge where perhaps access can be taken care of by adding a couple more ferries," said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, co-chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
Wilken said he wants to hear the arguments from Ketchikan bridge advocates before making up his mind. But he said officials in his Interior district would be crying out for him to get money for projects back home.
Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said, "I lived in Ketchikan, and the whole notion of millions and millions to save a five minute ferry ride . . . I'm not very sympathetic," Bunde said.
Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski said Thursday he still supports both bridges. But he said the state is still waiting to learn the details.
"If the decision is made that we have total flexibility, then I think the best thing to do is proceed with both projects as planned," Murkowski said Thursday.
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