- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Let others sneer at southeast Alaska’s so-called “bridge to nowhere.” Leaders in Ketchikan, the small port town on the receiving end of the project, call it a bridge to the future.

The $223 million two-bridge project would connect the town’s airport to Revillagigedo Island, where most of the 13,000 residents of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough live.

The airport is separated from its users by a quarter-mile-wide channel, forcing travelers to catch either a ferry or a water taxi.

Some Ketchikan leaders want to rename the airport after Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, for all the federal money he’s brought to the area, including money for the bridge. Mr. Young is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

But critics in Alaska and elsewhere say the funds earmarked for the bridge and some other projects in the federal transportation bill would be better spent on hurricane recovery.

Jack Shay, a member of the Ketchikan Borough Assembly who proposed renaming the airport after Mr. Young, said he would have no problem deferring the funds for a year if the money is instead used on Gulf Coast projects.

But he disagrees with opponents who say the bridge is a boondoggle.

“We’ve only been a state a relatively short time, so we’re way behind the other states,” Mr. Shay said. “Don Young has been a great help catching us up with other states.”

Mr. Young has said the federal money helps build basic connections between communities in Alaska, just as the government long ago built connections between cities in the contiguous 48 states.

“Because of its geographical location, Ketchikan has long been recognized as the ‘Gateway to Alaska,’ ” Mr. Young wrote. “Yet the community is accessible only by air and sea and has run out of land.”

The town — Alaska’s entry port for northbound cruise ships — is literally out of room for expansion, said Glen Thompson, a borough assemblyman.

The town is seven blocks wide and eight miles long, backing up to forest and mountains. There’s no place left to go but across the channel to Gravina Island, population 50, where the airport is located. It is relatively flat and prime real estate for development.

A road link between the two shores is crucial for growth, Mr. Thompson said.

Many Alaskans, including some Ketchikan residents, aren’t convinced a bridge is necessary. Ferries run every 15 minutes in summer and every half-hour in winter, said Shannon Spring, who is gathering signatures around town for a petition drive in favor of diverting the money to hurricane victims. A ride across the channel takes just a few minutes, he said.

“I think the bridge should not be built at all,” Mr. Spring said. “It’s ludicrous because of the expense.”

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