News from Patrick Flynn


I believe it was Emerson who originally said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”  How correct he was; all among us can and should reserve the right to learn more about the issues before us and, based on that additional information, reflect upon whether our initially held views were correct.

Yet consistency is among the bases upon which we build trust in one another and advance our community in a positive direction.  This is what troubles me about some of the comments I am hearing as we approach yet another Assembly discussion of the Knik Arm Crossing.  Less than one year ago we unanimously voted in favor of a resolution moving the crossing from the short- to the long-term project list, which was nearly identical to the one that will be before us on March 16.  Last spring’s resolution reflected a compromise on my part, one I did not have to make but did so in an effort to find common ground amongst disparate interests.  Indeed, one of my colleagues who offered his, “heartfelt thanks,” for developing this plan (not eliminating the project in its entirety, but allowing it to remain on the horizon) has indicated he plans to vote against the new resolution.  This despite the fact that then Mayor-elect Sullivan endorsed this approach in June 2009.  So what has changed?

First off the ideas initially advanced by KABATA, making the bridge accessible to pedestrian, bicycle and rail traffic, are withdrawn at KABATA’s request.  One could quite reasonably draw the conclusion that KABATA’s advocacy of that position, subsequent participation in a lawsuit fighting that position and ultimate withdrawal from that position is akin to duplicity.  Frankly, I would be hard pressed to refute such an argument.  Yet the main thrust of the resolution, allowing more time for projects like Highway-to-Highway to mature prior to building the bridge, remains in place.

Secondly we now hear from some state officials, among them those who concurred with the decision to move this project to the long-term project list, that our new governor supports keeping the Knik Arm Crossing on the short-term list.  Yet other state officials claim the governor simply wants to ensure the Knik Arm Crossing completes the permitting process, which can be accomplished if the project is on either list and something about which at least one senior DOT official appears to have not known prior to my informing him of that fact.  In light of this I am unsure what the governor’s real position might be and, more importantly, if his position is based on accurate information.

Finally I cannot help but wonder if the theory I advanced in August 2008 was, in fact, dead-on.  Readers may draw their own conclusions but it is interesting to note that the vast majority of transportation professionals who are not political appointees have privately communicated their opposition to KABATA’s efforts to push their project ahead of others.

In any event, during my service on the Assembly I have endeavored to make decisions based on what I felt was best for our community and to avoid taking easy or politically advantageous positions.  I can only hope my colleagues can and will do the same.



This contribution was made on Sunday, 07. March 2010 at 18:00 and was published under the category Coming events, Transportation. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Patrick Flynn can quote Emerson or any other literary figure all he wants; what he can’t let happen is for facts to get in the way of his personal agenda. The reason the Knik Arm Bridge is being revisited by the Assembly is that the public support for the project hasn’t changed and a majority of Alaskans, including the Governor, want the bridge to move out of the permitting phase. Mr. Flynn knows that moving the bridge off the short term time line will start the permitting process all over again and has the distinct potential to derail the project permanently. That was his objective last year, and it remains his objective. Mr. Flynn isn’t interested in seeing the bridge built at any time, and the politically expedient manner in which to bring about his goal is to move to alter the timeline for the bridge, which will insure that the long and expensive permitting process will have to start over.
    Perhaps Mr. Flynn has chosen to forget that his maneuver last year to place the bridge on a longer timeline resulted in a successful lawsuit by Mat-Su communities that would be adversely impacted by the Assembly action. It must be remembered that the Knik Arm Bridge is not just an Anchorage project. It is a bridge that will connect Anchorage with the Mat-Su Borough, and the Assembly action on the bridge stretches well beyond municipal boundaries. The reason many of his Assembly colleagues don’t support moving the bridge off the present short term project list is that they now understand what Mr. Flynn’s actions will do to the project. They also have a clear understanding of his true motive. And many Assembly members also now acknowledge the continued community support for the bridge moving forward on its present timeline.
    Mr. Flynn seeks to portray himself as one who championed a compromise position when he could have killed the Knik Arm Bridge. Once again, readers must not lose sight of Mr. Flynn’s personal agenda. He wants the bridge eliminated from any future consideration, but taking that action would be damaging to him politically. And Mr. Flynn also knew that adding a lot of new conditions to the project was the same as starting the permitting process anew, which would have the same result as killing the project. For that reason, KABATA requested that Mr. Flynn’s new conditions be removed from the project. Tens of millions have been spent on the bridge permitting process to date, and the all important Environmental Impact Statement has been approved. That approval alone took many millions of dollars and over three years to accomplish. Changing the timeline for the project will require a new EIS, costing tens of millions more and taking at least another three years. Mr. Flynn knows the public won’t buy that reworking of the project, which is why he supports changing its timeline.
    Mr. Flynn argues that the Knik Arm Bridge is dependent upon a maturation of the Highway to Highway project. That project is in its infancy and already is encountering significant opposition from neighborhoods and communities that will be impacted. There isn’t even a defined route for the H2H project. Yet Mr. Flynn wants the Knik Arm Bridge to wait for the H2H to proceed. Why? Because such a delay will likely insure that the bridge won’t be able to get new versions of permits that it already has and will never be built, which is what he really wants.
    The Governor wants the Knik Arm Bridge to complete the permitting process, which is what KABATA wants as well. The Knik Arm Bridge is a public/private partnership, and once the permitting process is completed, the private sector will have to decide that it makes economic sense to build the bridge. If it doesn’t pencil out economically, then the private sector will not move the project forward. Because unlike most road or bridge projects, this one will be financed and operated using toll revenues and will not be constructed without an economic cost-benefit analysis. But, Mr. Flynn also knows that the Knik Arm Bridge is attractive to private investors because of the long term revenue potential that it represents. Mr. Flynn would be well served to locate communities that regret building a bridge that connected them to another community. He certainly won’t find that sentiment in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, St, Louis, or many similar communities where bridges have provided long standing and important economic and transportation links.
    Mr. Flynn says he makes his decisions on the Assembly based upon what is best for our community. If he is true to his word, then he will support keeping the bridge on the short term timeline so that the permitting process can be completed and the private sector can make an economic determination whether to build the bridge or not. And if he continues his efforts to derail the bridge either overtly or covertly, he certainly can’t say he is acting in the best interest of our community, at least not until he comes up with major metropolitan areas that truly regret building a bridge.

    Comment: Mary Ann Pease – 08. March 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  2. I believe Mary Ann Pease is flat out wrong. A majority of Alaskans really couldn’t care less about the bridge. A majority of Alaskans of voting age can’t even be bothered to vote, much less form an opinion on the bridge. The fact of the matter is that there are lots of homes for sale in Anchorage, and people who want to live in Anchorage can afford to do so, and those who want cheaper housing and don’t mind a long commute can live in the valley. There simply is no clamor for this bridge except by those who build bridges, or develop the land on the other side of the bridge. Comparing this bridge to New York, San Francisco, Seattle or the other cities Ms. Pease offered up is ridiculous. We do not have those sorts of populationsl. Most people cannot take our winters, so they choose not to live here.

    KABATA is a boondoggle. Always has been. TIme to end it.

    Comment: Mel Slurrup – 08. March 2010 @ 9:41 pm

  3. I agree with Mel that most people, or at least those I hear from, really aren’t aligned with the Kabata folks. More importantly, whatever political benefit Mary Ann thinks Mr. Flynn may be achieving by adding the conditions of pedestrian, bicycle and rail options to the study, they are important to the long term benefit of this project. I am not sure if the bridge project is a good idea right now but it certainly isn’t an idea that needs to be implemented immediately. We should think long and hard about what interests are being served and what we expect this future bridge to provide in terms of our community transportation infrastructure.

    During the many long discussions about this project over the past few years, someone on the side of building mentioned that the Golden Gate bridge was built years before there was a real need. That may be true but it has sidewalks and bicycle lanes today. What do we want in place when this project is really in use: an underbuilt, less than adequate bridge we need to upgrade? What purpose will be served to build something that won’t meet our needs for at least a few decades?

    The talk about private financing is only real if the private company has no way to reach into the public’s pocket for any reason, including upkeep and maintenance should the projected toll numbers not be borne out in real life. Let’s go back and look at the State’s projections of over 1 million visitors to Whittier and a tunnel toll that would pay for itself. The same wild card economics have been used for a lot of projects in this state.

    I am happy to see a private company own the bridge if they own it as a private concern even if the economic circumstances turn out to be different. They should make the initial investment, do the maintenance and the upgrades and stand the penalty if it doesn’t work out. The problem with pushing private ownership of public infrastructure is that it generally only makes sense if the public subsidizes the project, either with initial capital or a back door to cover operating expenses when revenue is inadequate. How can a private company make money when the state can’t? Inefficient operation by ineffective government workers? Do bonuses for highly-paid managers and executives, high profits and return on investment really not offset government waste? Maybe we should ask Halliburton. If the private company can’t recover a dime or ever sell it back to the state for a dime, I am for the private project. If that made sense, someone from the private sector would be selling the project to the state and clamoring to build it. Are they?

    Comment: Steve Silverstein – 09. March 2010 @ 2:21 pm

  4. Editor’s note: While it is unclear whether some of the errata in Ms. Pease’s comments are due to misunderstandings or, shall we say, some stretching of the facts, it is irrefutable that Ms. Pease is a Public Affairs consultant for KABATA. Readers may consider, or ignore, that piece of information as they see fit.

    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 09. March 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  5. I appreciate Ms. Pease presenting her perspective on the motives and political perspective of the effort to derail the Knik Arm Crossing. While Mr. Flynn is quick to point out that Ms. Pease is Public Affairs consultant for KABATA, he did not refute any of her statements about why he is apparently continuing to attempt to derail the long sought crossing.

    This is a long overdue project that I suspect many of Mr. Flynn’s supporters oppose because they would like more money spent for butterfly nets. It’s the position of an elected official who professes to represent low-income areas of Anchorage, like Mt. View and Fairview, but knows intrinsically that direct access to the Mat-Su Borough precludes people who cannot afford to go there to live and still work in Anchorage.

    As the Highway-to-Highway proposal wrestles with whose property in Fairview or Government Hill will be condemned for the greater good of Anchorage, the potential for a direct link to one of the fastest growing population centers in Alaska will have to wait if Mr. Flynn has his way. This is an old-fashioned position that goes back generations of Anchorage residents who preferred an insular and contained city with only two ways in and out to keep captives buying meals at downtown restaurants.

    If the Assembly decides on March 16 to repeat the mistake it made “less than one year ago” by voting to move the project onto a long-term list, you may expect the same things to happen again, since our neighbor governments who deserve to have fair consideration of this project have already won in court once.

    Comment: DonnListon – 09. March 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  6. Mr. Liston,

    I am sorry you have not had the time to review the information I have put forth on this issue. Here’s a few of your requested counterpoints:

    “Mr. Flynn knows that moving the bridge off the short term time line will start the permitting process all over again and has the distinct potential to derail the project permanently.”

    According to Federal Highway officials, the Knik Arm Crossing permitting process can continue to a Record of Decision (be completed) whether it is on the short- or long-term project list, which is the what Governor Parnell’s staff has indicated to be his priority. I don’t blame Ms. Pease for her lack of knowledge on this matter, as I noted above DOT officials didn’t seem to be aware of this fact either.

    Perhaps Mr. Flynn has chosen to forget that his maneuver last year to place the bridge on a longer timeline resulted in a successful lawsuit by Mat-Su communities that would be adversely impacted by the Assembly action.

    Believe it or not, I’m keenly aware that the crux of this law suit was that original proposal was to remove KAC from the Long Range Transportation Plan completely. Houston, Wasilla & KABATA claimed that the compromise position, moving KAC from the short- to the long-term list (suggested during the review process by the AMATS Technical Advisory Committee), did not have enough public comment time. The law suit was settled with AMATS agreeing to re-start the public process on the compromise proposal, which is where we are today.

    And Mr. Flynn also knew that adding a lot of new conditions to the project was the same as starting the permitting process anew, which would have the same result as killing the project.

    Actually, it was KABATA that raised the idea of adding rail to the project, and the Technical Advisory Committee that suggested adding bike & pedestrian access. According to DOT, they weren’t aware of KABATA’s idea to add rail until after KABATA told Governor Palin. In any event, I agreed that they were good ideas.

    Mr. Flynn also knows that the Knik Arm Bridge is attractive to private investors because of the long term revenue potential that it represents.

    I know KABATA says that a lot. Said private investors have never confirmed that to me.

    Hopefully that provides some of the refutations you seek.



    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 10. March 2010 @ 9:35 am

  7. Thanks Pat for all you do, we will see if the 5 member AMATS Policy Committee take the advice of the Assembly, and follow their previously unanimous decision to move the bridge to the long term.

    Payback of the $40 or $50 million that KABATA has or will spend on the EIS and the Record of Decision is a major issue for the community and the state. Chairman Foster said that if the Knik Arm Bridge is moved to the long-term part of the LRTP, that the ROD may not be issued by the FHWA. That is actually a good thing. If the ROD is not issued, then we would not have to repay those costs. If the ROD is issued, and the bridge is not able to get funding or permits to complete the design and actually go to construction, then we would have to repay the costs of completing the ROD.

    Sorry, Mary Ann, you can only fool some of the people some of the time.
    Show us the money!

    For those wonks out there, here are some more point/counterpoints regarding the comments from Mary Ann Pease/KABATA.

    “public support for the project hasn’t changed”
    Even KABATA’s push polls have shown dwindling support, especially when public instead of private funding is required.

    “Mr. Flynn knows that moving the bridge off the short term time line will start the permitting process all over again.”
    KABATA has a design that is only 35% complete, and has not submitted permit requests to the Corps of Engineers, or to the National Marine Fisheries Services, both of which will likely require costly changes to the design.

    ” the all important Environmental Impact Statement has been approved. ”
    The EIS has not been approved, FHWA has not issued a Record of Decision, which signifies approval.

    “Changing the timeline for the project will require a new EIS”,
    Even if a ROD is issued, a completely new EIS is not necessary, KABATA can issue a Supplimental EIS.

    “permits that it already has”
    See above, show us a single ACTUAL permit that KABATA has.

    “The Governor wants the Knik Arm Bridge to complete the permitting process”
    The governor has expressed interest in seeing the Environmental Process is completed, ie the EIS, not the permitting process, which has not even been started.

    “Mr. Flynn also knows that the Knik Arm Bridge is attractive to private investors because of the long term revenue potential that it represents.”
    Show us the money. KABATA has said in public testimony, that they will likely need state guarantees of toll revenue, or State Backed Bonds in addition to the Federal TIFIA bonds. That puts the full faith and credit of the State at risk if KABATA’s toll revenues (apparently based on outdated population estimates out of Texas, ignoring the most recent estimates from UAA’s Institute of Social & Econmic Research (ISER) that show not only at least 35% slower growth in Anchorage and the Mat-Su, but also 80,000 fewer people!

    Comment: Bob French – 22. March 2010 @ 10:18 am

  8. […] alluded to in a previous post, one of the intriguing aspects of the political process is observing how public officials […]

    Pingback: Patrick Flynn's Blog » What is a conservative? | An Assembly member's take on Anchorage issues – 26. March 2010 @ 7:56 pm

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