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Alaska Increases Project Costs for Ketchikan Bridge

Sat March 31, 2007 - West Edition
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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) State highway officials have increased their estimate of the costs of a bridge project to the island containing Ketchikan’s airport by a whopping $67 million.

The new estimate, adjusted for future inflation and rising material costs, puts the cost at $395 million, a figure included in a new financial plan submitted to the federal government.

Mal Menzies, southeast regional director of the Alaska Department of Transportation, said the cost is still estimated at $328 million in 2006 dollars.

“The cost of inflation and materials is the biggest contributor,” Menzies said.

The financial plan extends through the life of the contract, which is expected to last until 2011 or 2012, he said. The federal government requires the Transportation Department to consider higher material costs and inflation on what today’s dollars will be worth in 2011, he said.

The preferred alternative for the project is a set of two spans crossing from Revillagigedo Island, where most of Ketchikan’s residents live, to tiny Pennock Island, with a second bridge crossing to Gravina Island, the location of the airport.

One span would be 200-ft. (60 m) high, crossing the Tongass Narrows east channel. The other would be 120-ft. (36.5 m) high over the west channel.

The 200-ft. bridge would allow cruise ships to pass. The 120-ft. high bridge would allow passage for Columbia-class Alaska Marine Highway System ferries.

“The preferred alternative is the community’s preferred alternative,” Menzies said. “We at the Department of Transportation had suggested to the community, as well as government bodies, to look at lesser costs of bridges and discuss them to see if one is more reachable with funds available.”

Menzies said a less expensive alternative would have a 60-ft. (18 m) bridge over the east channel with the second bridge at 200 ft. The estimated cost of constructing that alternative is approximately $242 million. The 60-ft. clearance would allow passage to state ferries and most other marine traffic — but not cruise ships.

“The driving force of the high bridges are the tour ships,” he said.

Another alternative is a single bridge direct to the airport with an estimated cost of $260 million. The $242 million and $260 million figures for alternate bridges have been adjusted for inflation, according to Menzies.

Borough Mayor Joe Williams said he was informed of the increased estimate by Andy Hughes, a state transportation official.

“I certainly found it very interesting,” Williams said. He called the $395 million “a lot of money.”

Until the community tells him otherwise, he will continue to work toward obtaining funds for the preferred alternative, he said.

“Right at this point, the community of Ketchikan has been on record to construct the bridge,” he said.

City of Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein said he thought the state had always over-inflated the Ketchikan project while underestimating other projects, such as the Juneau access road.

“The city is for improved access to Gravina as long as it doesn’t block our navigation channels as some of the non-preferred alternatives do,” he said.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski in his recommended budget to Gov. Sarah Palin included $195 million for Ketchikan’s bridges. That proposed funding is not in Palin’s recommended budget.

The project has been criticized nationally as a “road to nowhere.”

In 2005, Congress stripped off earmarks of federal funds for the Gravina bridge but sent the $223 million to the state. Much of that money was diverted to other state projects. Only $91 million of federal receipts was left for the Gravina Island bridge in the state’s FY07 enacted capital budget.

Charles Fedullo, Palin’s deputy press secretary, said there is not money in Palin’s capital budget for the project at this time.

“The governor introduced the base capital budget with projects only that would leverage additional federal dollars,” Fedullo said.

Menzies said the state has awarded a $25.7 million contract to Kiewit Pacific of Anchorage to build the Gravina Island Highway, a 3.2-mi. gravel road ending near the west channel.

Construction on the highway could start by mid-summer, he said.

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