News from Patrick Flynn

Yadda yadda KABATA

So here’s the deal:  Anchorage has an incoming mayor and we have differing opinions on when and how a Knik Arm Crossing should be built.  Anyone who follows local government knows that I’ve helped initiate a process that would remove the proposed bridge from Anchorage’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).  As I’ve stated before, I’m not opposed to any bridge ever, but I do object to the proposed bridge now.  So what happens next?

One option is to aggressively push forward on removing the bridge from the LRTP later this month, prior to the new mayor being sworn in and assuming a seat on the AMATS policy committee.  The likely result?  Another process reversing that decision thereby restoring the crossing’s place in the LRTP.  For those unfamiliar with transportation project planning, projects using federal funds must be part of a community’s LRTP, it’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and the Statewide Transportation Improvement Progam (STIP).  Feel free to call out if you’ve completed a line on your “bureaucratic bingo” card.

Another option is to resign oneself to the bridge project being allowed to move forward and see if it can somehow overcome the myriad of environmental, financial and other challenges it faces.  Reasonable minds can disagree, but I have a hard time seeing how that could happen.

Remarkably a third option came, perhaps unintentionally, from the ardently pro-bridge chair of the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, Mike Foster.  Mr. Foster joined that board this spring and was quickly elected chairman.  He’s been quite active ever since and, much to the surprise of many, recently publicly floated the idea of making the bridge “rail accessible.”

Before we go any further, allow me to make something abundantly clear – while my day job is at the Alaska Railroad Corporation, my views on this issue do not reflect ARRC’s and ARRC’s corporate views do not shape my thinking about the proposed bridge.  To the extent I influence corporate thinking it’s aimed at improving service for current and potential customers at the lowest possible cost.  Currently that includes finding funds for improving clearances in a tunnel, acquisition of railcars and increasing network capacity.  I do not believe any of those needs would be served by a bridge across Knik Arm.  Back to our story…

Several years ago KABATA removed rail accessibility from its plan as a cost-reduction measure.  To explain, railroads do not handle grades very well – 1.5% is considered very steep – while cars and trucks can and do function relatively well on hills.  A rail-accessible bridge must therefore be relatively flat, which means lots of piers to support its structure, while longer motor vehicle-only bridges tend to be arched, thereby reducing the number of piers needed.  If KABATA is serious about adding rail accessibility that would require them to re-open their Environmental Impact Statement process, which offers an opportunity to address some of the shortcomings in the existing plan.

Thus was my thinking when I met with Mr. Foster, Andrew Niemiec and Aves Thompson back in April.  My primary concern with the current proposal stems from the decision to use the A-C couplet as the Anchorage approach to the bridge.  Aside from the effects such an approach would have on Government Hill, it also adds congestion to an over-stressed corridor and further isolates the east side of downtown.  I would also like to see some maturation of development on both sides of the bridge (e.g. zoning in the Mat-Su that accommodates industrial growth near Port MacKenzie and redevelopment of some Anchorage neighborhoods) prior to its construction.  Both of these goals could be addressed by pushing back the bridge’s construction schedule, opening up the EIS to explore the rail issue and doing a more thorough job on the approach issue (even bridge proponents like Gordon Keith acknowledge shortcomings in the process that led to the current plan).  In other words, if we’re going to build this bridge let’s do it right.

I can’t say Mr. Foster found my idea particularly attractive but neither did he dismiss it out of hand.  Publicly I expect he’ll fight it to the bitter end but I suspect he could live with it.  Following the May run-off election I met separately with both Dan Sullivan and Mr. Keith, who chairs AMATS, and they seemed receptive to that approach so I suggested they talk.  As an interesting aside, Mayor-elect Sullivan indicated his support for the bridge might dissipate if KABATA seeks additional public funds, something Mr. Foster has hinted they may do.  My Assembly and AMATS colleague, Sheila Selkregg, doesn’t seem to like the plan as it fails to recover the $50+ million remaining from KABATA’s original $100 million allocation, a reasonable objection but one I’m not sure I can solve.

Frankly, I’m not sure how this will play out over the next couple of months so stay tuned!



P.S.  My apologies for the lack of links to MOA sites – I believe the site is undergoing maintenance this weekend.

This contribution was made on Sunday, 07. June 2009 at 10:15 and was published under the category Transportation. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

«  –  »

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.



Community councils


Local government


State government


RSS Feeds – Admin


Copyright - Patrick Flynn, All Rights Reserved