- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Federal funds for the “bridge to nowhere,” the nickname critics gave to a bridge linking a sparsely populated area in Alaska, have been stripped out.

After weeks of bad publicity from outside Congress and calls from fiscal conservatives from inside, Republican House leaders made the decision Tuesday night to remove the federal funds that Alaska lawmakers had earmarked for building two bridges. The unusual move came as part of the House-Senate agreement on a bill to fund the Transportation and Treasury departments.

Nearly $500 million had been set aside in the highway bill for the bridges, and the money will still go to Alaska transportation officials to decide how to spend it. The bridges can still be built, although the spans will have to compete with other state transportation projects for funding.

Even though they didn’t reduce spending, the fiscal conservatives said killing the bridges is a victory because the money was returned to state transportation officials, who are in the best position to make decisions.

Now they want to target the thousands of other earmarks in the massive highway bill.

“One down, 6,299 to go,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who was the bridges’ most vocal critic in the House.

He said that Republicans were coming back from weekend and recess trips home after hearing from constituents who are upset about the spending and that image strategist Frank Luntz told House Republicans several weeks ago that the bridges were indefensible.

“It fell of its own weight,” Mr. Flake said.

The “bridge to nowhere,” earmarked to receive $223 million in federal funds, would have run a quarter-mile between Ketchikan and Gravina Island, which has a population numbering in the dozens.

The other bridge, spanning Knik Arm in Anchorage, was earmarked for $230 million and named “Don Young Way.”

The Knik Arm bridge had become a running joke inside Congress as well, with Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and the bridge’s biggest defender, taking barbs about it from Democrats yesterday during a meeting of the Homeland Security Committee.

A Republican aide said the final decision was made by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who announced at a leadership meeting yesterday that “the ‘bridge to nowhere’ is out.”

Last month, when fiscally conservative senators tried to cut funding for the two bridges and send some of the money to complete Interstate 10 bridges damaged by Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, threatened to resign if the amendment was approved.

He said it was wrong to target one specific state’s projects.

The amendment overwhelmingly failed.

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