Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nowhere International Airport

So, I was doing a little research on Alaska's whole "Highway to Nowhere" scandal. There is a little red meat wherever you look, but there is a bit more to the story that people aren't telling you. All I've heard the last couple years about this is that a remote area of Alaska needed a bridge between the mainland and an island of 50 inhabitants. That wacky pork barrel Congress wanted to throw a couple hundred million free dollars to replace ferries on this desolate island.

However, a short trip to Wikipedia revealed that this desolate island housed Ketchikan International Airport. Funny, the news missed that. Also, Wikipedia had a link to the stats for the ferries for the year. It turns out the annual traffic on that desolate island was 350,000 people per year.

Seems more than a little weird that everyone on TV and the paper left that little fact out. Kind of an important thing when calling something a Bridge to Nowhere to acknowledge that Nowhere apparently has an international airport and that boats carry a great deal of people and freight each day.

The Astoria-Megler bridge here in Oregon runs 4.1 miles across the Columbia River to a remote backwater area of Washington with no major highways.

The Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce said of their bridge:

It didn’t take long for the bridge to prove its detractors wrong. The critics of the “Bridge to Nowhere” wondered out loud who would want to take a bridge from a small town to an empty shore. The answer came quickly: plenty of people. In the last five months of 1966, the bridge carried about 240,000 vehicles, the state’s projected figure for all of 1967. By 1993, more than 1.6 million vehicles a year were crossing the “Bridge to Nowhere.” On December 24, 1993, more than two years early, the bonds were paid off and the the toll removed.

Contruction started in 1962 and the bridge cost $24 million dollars. In current dollars, $171 million.

The fact that the Untested Gimmick, Sarah Palin, was recently nailed by conservative commentator Chris Matthews for lying at least 7 times about her part in this Bridge to Nowhere notwithstanding, I am concerned that the lust for red meat news reporting has overshadowed the fact that infrastructure is a low priority.

The other interesting point is that Gov. Palin and Alaska kept the money including building a road to meet the non-existent bridge.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that the truth was a casualty to the promotion of a pointless left-right debate about a bridge that was misrepresented from the get-go. How are we supposed to make an informed decision when the whole goddamned media is geared toward phosphorescent debates about contrived narratives? The answer is, "We aren't." We are supposed to walk back and forth in our little ideological ruts.


ladybug said...

Thanks for the info! As usual, Oregon is first for it's "Bridge to Nowhere"...and the Bottle Bill...and Public Beaches open to all. Yay!

Pandabonium said...

Interesting post, thanks. Somehow it's all about party power plays and vying for funds for the home state or district and the actual needs of the people and the country take a back seat.

The Moody Minstrel said...

At least "Bridges to Nowhere" in the U.S actually go somewhere. I don't know how many bridges and overpasses I've seen here in Japan that have somehow remained under construction for more than ten years.

Arkonbey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arkonbey said...

Yeah. Remarkably, I've met liberals who've never heard that the 'bridge to nowhere' went somewhere. Does Ketchikan have a high democratic population? I can't think of why a Republican administration would not want to build something in the name of 'growth'.

just an anecdote: I lived on Kodiak and we DID have a 'bridge to nowhere'; from Kodiak to Near Island. The bridge wasn't tens of millions, but it was a new-ish bridge certainly went to a very small place that, twenty years after I was there, has nothing on it but some more slip space. (as per Google Earth)

Moody: Yet, to us in the West, Japan is a model of efficiency. You mean they can be as screwed up as us?

Don Snabulus said...


Oregon's 3 Bs: Bridges, bottles, and beaches...not as good as beer, beans, and babes but it will have to do. ;)


Yep. I wonder where all that money went to.


I wonder if they got started and changed their minds on some of those.


Gotta love power politics (or not). Little bridges to nowhere must be okay.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Let me put it this way: a number of years ago it was discovered that the largest construction companies here were offering management training seminars on how to bribe city officials. And when the government reacted to the public outcry by starting a (largely symbolic) crackdown on corruption in the construction industry, not only the construction companies but also a lot of local government officials complained, saying the bribery and cronyism were "beneficial" because they promoted trust and ensured a close working relationship. (One mayor went so far as to complain that, in a totally level bidding system, his city might be obligated to hire an "unknown and probably inexperienced" company, which would be "dangerous".)

That whole row over Prime Minister Fukuda fighting to re-implement that extra gasoline tax was mainly over the fact that a large percentage of that money was being earmarked for pork projects such as bicycle lanes on little-used roads, rest stops on back roads, etc..

Now...before Snabulus thinks I'm thread-jacking...

Very possible. I'm also personally familiar with one such project, a four-lane parkway with planned commercial and residential projects along its length, that got terminated mid-course when the mayor got voted out of office and replaced by a guy with ties to a different construction company...who immediately started a different project somewhere else (that at least made a little bit of sense). The parkway project was partly resurrected back in the late nineties, but it's still mostly a fancy, (pothole-filled) four-lane road surrounded by grassy lots.

But seriously...some of these freeway overpasses have been under construction, as in workers are working on it whenever I drive by...for YEARS. I can't help but wonder just what they're doing (or not).

Okay, 'nuff on that.

Arkonbey said...

MM: wow. I guess I was being being jingoistic. I suppose it's entirely possible that governments and construction companies other countries could be as venal and greedy as those in the US.

I was talking to a friend just yesterday about how he worked construction on the Jersey Turnpike during college. One of the things he learned was how to hide shoddy/unfinished work from inspectors. Yay!

Dean Wormer said...

You keep your informed, book-learning to yourself Mr. Pinko.

While I do support the infrastructure I also think Alaska's tax on oil going to the rest of the U.S. which they return to Alaska residents as rebates could more than pay for their own infrastructure improvements.

I know this sounds tribal and oversimplistic but let's redirect Federal dollars which are unfairly going to "red" states towards the infrastructure in the "blue" states that seems most in need of repair and is literally threatening lives for this reason.

Dave said...

Oh Lord. If I had a nickel for every time a politician said "We only want to help you!"

My dad once gave me a paper on how the infrastructure was the back bone of the economy. Obviously, if you have no means to get your product to market, you're screwed.

Sarah Palin has balls as big as brass door knobs. And she's a woman. What in the hell was John McCain thinking? She'll wipe the floor with him. My babe.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Sarah Palin before she was nominated:

"The war in Iraq is necessary. It's a task from God."

"I do not believe that global warming is man-made."

"We should conduct oil exploration in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge."

Sarah Palin on the recent TV interview:

"I didn't really mean that."

"I didn't really mean that."

"I didn't really mean that."

And they called Kerry a waffler?

Anonymous said...

Of course, as we run up against resource depletion, it may very well become a bridge to nowhere as the flights to the airport dwindle, cruise ships visiting the town dwindle, and the gasoline available to power cars and the diesel to power ferries becomes either too expensive or simply not available at any price.

Drill, baby, drill isn't going to do anything but steal the last of the finite fossil fuel from future generations. What a waste. To ask Americans to convserve rather than exploit the last drop is too much to ask, I guess.

Don Snabulus said...

MM, Ark:

Interesting points all around. I will delay your executions for another week. (that was my Jeremy Irons voice).


Somehow, I knew you would like Palin.




Excellent point! I believe the Astoria bridge was paid with bonds and paid back with tolls rather than Federal tax money.


At that point (which may be quite soon), having built a bridge would seem foolish. It would be quite miraculous if this bridge is where we finally "got it" about finite resources, but I doubt it is.