On November 17, 2005, Congress defeated two earmark bills fromAlaska’s sole Congressman, Don Young and the late Senator Ted Stevens, for bridges in Alaska. The first bill earmarked $231 million for what became known as the “Bridge to Nowhere”, a bridge to provide a connection between the port city of Ketchikan and Gravina Island, the location of Ketchikan’s airport. The second bill earmarked $223 million for a bridge connecting Anchorage with Point MacKenzie across the Knik Arm. Both bridges were touted as being important for economic development in Alaska. The 2005 legislation prevented Alaska from spending any federal funds for planning, design or construction of either of these two bridges. The legislation did not eliminate the bridge projects nor did it eliminate the $454 million fromAlaska’s federal transportation funding that year.
The bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina would eliminate the need for the ferryboat that currently serves the 13 families that live on the island and the 200,000 passengers that use the airport each year. The bridge would have to be taller than the Brooklyn Bridge to allow passage for large cargo and passenger ships. The ferry makes its crossing at a narrow location while the bridge would have to be longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, crossing at a wide point, 6 miles south of the ferry crossing, so not to interfere with airport operations. Even thought the bridge hasn’t been built, Alaska did spend our tax dollars to build a road on Gravina Island. It runs for 6 miles south from the airport… to nowhere.
The envisioned 2.6 mile, 4-lane crossing over the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet would consist of causeways built out from each shore connected by a 1.5-mile long bridge. The cost of the bridge and several miles of roadway and interchanges could reach $1.5 billion. The 81-mile drive from Anchorage to the new Goose Creek Correctional facility at Point MacKenzie would only be 12 miles via the bridge. The deepwater port at Point MacKenzie would also benefit from a water crossing to Anchorage. Construction has begun on a 30-mile spur line from the Alaska Railroad at Houston to Port MacKenzie and work is underway reducing road grades and widening roads for expected increases in truck traffic to and from the port. Proponents of the bridge are currently seeking private investors and environmental studies have begun on the bridge project. Meanwhile, there is a need for a way to cross the Knik Arm
That need was closer to being filled in 2010 with the completion of a new ferryboat, the M/V Susitna. Thanks to Senator Stevens and the U.S. Navy, the Mat-Su Borough now owns a $78 million twin-hulled-ice breaking-catamaran ferryboat. It can operate at 17 knots in high seas drawing 12’ of water or reconfigure itself to operate at 4.5’ draft. Unlike any of the 17 ferryboats the State currently operates in the Alaskan Marine Highway system, the M/V Susitna requires more crewmembers than comparably sized ferryboats and crew members require special training. The vessel carries 120 passengers and 20 vehicles. A building housing a passenger terminal and offices for the ferry operators has opened at Port MacKenzie. Now all that is needed are specialized docking facilities at both Port MacKenzie and Anchorage and the ferry will have somewhere to go.