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..