EDITORIAL: The wherewithal

Small Alaskan town still fighting for its crossing

Blog Entry July 06, 2012

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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I wish we were out of Nowhere. Fresh out.


There is still one aging on the shelf, all because people want to buy a little more time when moving through a TSA checkpoint. Can you blame them? Blame, what, a couple hundred of them? Right now, the only mode of transportation to carry the daily frequent fliers of Ketchikan, Alaska, is a small ferry. The boat’s only destination is an airport on Gravina Island, a name which will forever be in parentheses. Not too long ago, Congress officially named it Nowhere, and the bridge project scheduled to turn the remote land into a local tourist attraction, which I am certain would be marked by a commemorative plaque carrying the infamous title, was frozen in time.


But those 100-or-sos want the quickest way between two points, and they refuse to lose their voice. Alaska is still talking about a better way to Nowhere, and apparently talks are going in every direction. The latest environmental review is looking at ferry options and bridge alternatives to the Ketchikan airport. The Alaska Department of Transportation has never lost sight of the federal cash originally appropriated for the bridge project. The $68.2 million is still sitting there, somewhere marked for the Nowhere. Alaska still has to match about 10% of the funds, and officials, including former Gov. Frank Murkowski, want the money to be spent for its original purpose. However, instead of a bridge to Nowhere, Murkowski is proposing an underwater tunnel to anywhere in the neighborhood of the Ketchikan airport. The former chief believes the land that houses airplanes could someday house people and product. It’s a near wasteland that could be converted to a Disneyland of possibilities if the right route was put in place.


The Ketchikan Shipyard would help carry out Murkowski’s shot in the Alaskan dark. It is capable of building prefabricated tunnel sections that would be lowered into a trench on the floor of the Tongass Narrows. The original plan for a bridge was going to cost as much as $330 million, but this immersed tube approach, according to Murkowski, would be considerably more cost effective than alternative concepts.


Sarah Palin moved a chunk of the money designated for the bridge to Nowhere to the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, which was badly needed. Palin might have been poked fun at during her run for vice president, but I think the index finger here was pointed in the right direction. Even though Wasilla is Palin’s stomping grounds, Murkowski himself approved the move.


If this new bridge/tunnel project ended up costing $30 million, I still would have reservations about it moving forward. Again, how many people are we serving daily? Nowhere near the number I would prefer. How much new economic activity will this generate? Nowhere near what local politicians are banking on.


This whole movement just needs to go anywhere but a place called reality. I almost wish Alaska had taken a more camouflaged approach to it all. Heck, politicians should be petitioning to rename this nickname coated in vinegar. That way maybe nobody would have the know-how about this place once known as Nowhere.


This is just not going to go away, is it? Those 100-or-sos need their bridge or tunnel to take them to a relatively close place, which in turn will take them to faraway places. However, if a ferry is not suitable here, then it is not suitable to several other locations like Ketchikan. So as far as this long-expired idea goes, the time has come to stop shopping it around. R&B

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