Does Alaska have a new ‘Bridge to Nowhere?’

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" is one of the most infamous symbols in recent years of wasteful pork-barrel spending, but the state may now have another symbol of congressional spending excess on its hands.

A $64 million runway project connecting remote outposts in Alaska's Aleutian Island chain has sparked fresh controversy over federal contributions to Alaskan efforts to make transportation more accessible, Ben Anderson and Jill Burke report for Alaska Dispatch.

The $77 million airport project is currently under way for the remote city of Akutan. But the runway won't be built on the same island as the village, which is reportedly home to less than a hundred year-round residents, though its population typically spikes at the height of the fishing season. And while the runway is scheduled for completion this winter, area planners still haven't hit on any definite system for transporting people from the runway to Akutan.

In other words, without some underlying means of mass transit, the community will essentially have a runway-to-nowhere.

One plan is to purchase a $13 million hovercraft. A helicopter would be another option. A third would be a road connecting the islands.

At present island residents are able to use certain seaplanes for transportation--but Anderson and Burke report that most planes can't withstand harsher weather conditions. What's more, they report, the planes that Akutan residents now use are no longer manufactured and are becoming difficult to maintain.

Government spending will pay for most of the runway project: the feds are kicking in $59 million, with the state adding another $5 million. Trident Seafoods, which operates in the area, will pitch in $1 million, Anderson and Burke report. Altogether, that's still just a fraction of the cost of the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere"--a $398 million project to connect Ketchikan, Alaska residents to their local airport on Gravina Island.

Members of Congress fought to earmark the Gravina Island Bridge for funding in 2005, but eventually the proposal went down to defeat in Washington amid outcries over pork-barrel spending. Alaska state lawmakers also withdrew their backing for the project.

So whatever happened to the 8,000 residents of Ketchikan, and their efforts to reach the wider world? They continue to travel to and from their airport via a 10-minute ferry.