Saturday, March 27, 2010

AMATS moves Knik Arm Bridge to short term list

As if we didn't see it coming, AMATS (the 5 member board that oversees federally funded transportation priorities for the South Central region of the state including Anchorage) has moved the Knik Arm Bridge project from the long term list of priorities back to the short term. Late last year when Anchorage Mayor Begich was still in office, he and two anti-bridge Assembly members voted in a 3 to 2 majority over the two pro-bridge members from the state DOT to move the project into the list of long term projects. This would mean that more immediate and much needed projects that actually affect Anchorage and Valley residents would take priority and become reality. But not long after this was achieved, the mayors from the Mat-Su including disgraced mayor Roger Purcell of Houston (not Houston, TX for you outsiders) took AMATS to court saying that public hearings on the decision were not made. The mayors from the Valley knew full well that if the court struck down the AMATS decision, then the process would start all over but with one major change -- pro-bridge Dan Sullivan is now mayor of Anchorage. Now the majority swings in the favor of the Knik Arm Bridge proposal 3 to 2. For those not in the know, AMATS decisions aren't usually done before the public in the first place. But of course the mayors of Houston and Wasilla see the bridge as a benefit since obviously the bridge landing will be in the Mat-Su and in turn bring opportunities of economic growth at the expense of the Anchorage economy and tax base.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know I'm not supportive of this project. While I may be a cheerleader for steel beams rising into the air and just about any construction project going on in Anchorage (and the world for that matter), the bridge would be a death knell for the city for both business and residents. Figures already show that toll costs would take decades to cover the cost of the bridge -- a cost that is rising every year since the bridge committee known as KABATA was formed about 10 years ago. At this point the bridge is somewhere in the hundreds of millions... exact numbers are impossible to know as they keep changing every time the latest story on the Bridge to Nowhere is published. Should the bridge be built, funds from AMATS would be sucked dry by the bridge depriving both Anchorage and the Valley of important transport projects that were handed to us via AMATS by the federal government. Why blow what we have in federal money on a bridge that a news source found would actually take LONGER for Valley commuters to get from Anchorage to the Valley and back (in addition to paying a toll)? Most importantly, a bridge linking Anchorage with the sparsely populated western end of the Mat-Su Borough would inevitably lead to urban sprawl as far as the eye can see. Anchorage is in the process of replacing temporary strip malls, dusty parking lots, and other ramshackle buildings with more permanent easy on the eye buildings as developable land runs out and property values rise. From a visual standpoint, Anchorage is on the threshold of looking like a real city. With businesses and residents leaving the city, what happens to our tax base? City funds will drain, quality of schools and other quality of life issues will decrease provoking a further exodus and turn Anchorage into the likes of other cities in the Lower 48. We know these cities -- hundreds of thousands if not millions commute into cities only to repeat their 2 hour commute back in the evening. Unlike Phoenix, Atlanta, or Houston, among others that spread beyond the horizon, Anchorage isn't surrounded by flat plains. The cost to maintain miles and miles of sewer lines, streets, lights, etc etc is non existent due to our limited growth space.

I love my construction projects, but projects that come at the expense of the economic, social, and financial well being of every one of us is not cool.

btw I hope I don't come off as purely alarmist. A project being listed on the short term list doesn't mean that it will happen. Just a disclaimer..

1 comment:

MAP said...

AMATS Policy Committee appropriately placed the Knik Arm Bridge in the short-term horizon of the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP)

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. Anti-development sentiment favored moving the bridge off the AMATS short term time line, a process that would start the permitting process all over again($45 million has been spent on the environmental and engineering studies to date) and has the distinct potential to derail the project permanently. But that is what the ant-bridge faction wants; they aren’t interested in a bridge in the short term or the long term.

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. 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. That is what is so frustrating for the bridge opponents- they can’t argue that the bridge represents a waste of government funding, because it will be built by a private developer who secures its own funding. The developer will have to satisfy itself that the project makes economic sense before it can obtain financing. And to obtain financing, the developer will have to convince lenders of the financial viability of the project. Nonetheless, bridge opponents are trying to derail the bridge now because they know it is highly improbably that the bridge will fail for lack of private sector economic support. As Mayor Dan Sullivan stated at the AMATS policy committee meeting, “Show me a community that regrets building a bridge.”

Opponents of the Knik Arm Bridge argue that its construction will lead to a drop in tax revenue for Anchorage and leave the city with a blighted downtown. Quite the contrary-the bridge will allow the area to develop an industrial and heavy commercial base that cannot exist in Anchorage because of a shortage of land. Anchorage will continue to expand and grow as a financial, business, service and cultural center. But it has no place for industry to expand. And truth be known, bridge opponents don’t want industry or commercial development in Anchorage. But they won’t admit that if it undermines their bridge opposition. If they are sincere about their vision of Anchorage as a high-rise city served by mass transit and light rail, then presumably they should be discouraging any additional links to the Mat-Su, including buses, light rail or an expansion of the Glenn Highway. Under their jaundiced view of Anchorage, everyone should live and work here and there should be no connection with communities to the north. But that is not the position taken by bridge opponents and therein lies the fallacy in their position. They know that Anchorage and Mat-Su are inextricably linked; they just don’t want the Knik Arm Bridge. The lesson from them is to never let rational thought get in the way of an emotional opposition.

Anchorage is the regional hub of activity for our state. The bridge offers connectivity between ports. It is an important component of the region’s transportation infrastructure. and offers an important alternative route to Anchorage that will also promote development in the area. The time to move this project forward and secure a ROD is now. That advancement will allow the private sector developer to begin its work to assess the economic viability of the project.