No Bridge to Nowhere

Originally Published in the Anchorage Daily News January 10 2007

Don’t Stay This Course!

Governor-Elect Palin has an opportunity to do great things for Alaska and her own political future – in one simple move. She should give back the Bridges to Nowhere monies.

I was in Washington, DC, just after the election. I noticed that everything, from the Iraq war to potholes in northern Virginia, gets blamed on our bridges to nowhere. It is truly amazing how many ways the press in Washington finds to deliver snide references to Alaska and its congressional delegation. At the same time, the Governor-Elect’s party is getting hammered about pork and ethics and the election day results reflected that. On the other hand, Ms Palin was one of the few happy stories for the Republicans. She’s a fresh face and she won big on a night when Republicans were losing all over the country. Now, she has an opportunity to come forward with a fresh idea that perfectly resonates with the will of the majority in the country today.

Although the public relations impacts are reason enough for this gesture, there are many other potential benefits.

She partly made her name exposing the misuse of public funds. Those increased salaries at KABATA cannot have pleased her. Shutting down that operation gets rid of one headache and frees up funds and personnel for the problems she really wants to solve. I hope she also knows that the Knik Arm Crossing is not a good deal for Wasilla and the Mat-Su. I hope she’s looked at the map. If built, both rail and highway traffic will eventually completely bypass Wasilla. She knows that if it gets built in the near future, it will saddle both the Mat-Su and Anchorage with huge new and growing infrastructure costs.

Some have said that you just can’t give back federal monies. Some also said you can’t elect a young relatively inexperienced woman to the governorship of Alaska. So far, Sarah Palin has been all can-do in the face of a chorus of can’ts. I hope she keeps it up.

We don’t want our next Governor to get crosswise with our Congressional delegation. She needs to get them on board. Senator Murkowski, I think, would love to be rid of the personally painful conflict between her Government Hill roots and her devotion to progress for Alaska. Senator Stevens can say out loud what many have been thinking from the beginning. It is not a good idea in this day and age to route a public right of way across the end of the main runway of Elmendorf Air Force Base.

Ms Palin must be most respectful of Congressman Young. He has made great efforts on behalf of these bridges. But he is an Alaskan and a big Alaskan, and a big Republican too! He is big enough to admit that this one got a little bit ahead of itself. He can share the credit for restoring the honor of Alaska and the Republican Party.

The return of the funds need not imply disrespect for the efforts made to date on behalf of these bridges. The studies have made valuable contributions to our understanding of Cook Inlet and its surrounds. Some day, when Wasilla has expanded west to Point MacKenzie and Anchorage has redeveloped itself into a more important regional hub, the Knik Arm Crossing can be built to connect two real places. This bridge could be consistent the guidelines for Federal Highway funding. By that time, there will be infrastructure, and taxpayers, on both sides of the Arm, ready to share the burden of the cost of the bridge. (I know little about Ketchikan’s bridge to nowhere, though on the face of it, it appears less well conceived than the Knik Arm Crossing.)

It’s a win-win-win-win-win. With one decision, Governor Palin erases years of national talk about Alaska pork and pfd selfishness, not to mention nepotism, and replaces it with the most astoundingly generous gesture ever made by one of these United States. Who knows, if she goes through with it, we might begin to hear talk about the possibility of Vice President Palin.

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