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Anchorage Assembly Backs Bridge Delay

Wed July 29, 2009 - West Edition
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) The Anchorage Assembly has unanimously backed delaying construction of a bridge across Knik Arm from the city to Point MacKenzie in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The measure was a compromise proposal intended to keep the Knik Arm bridge project alive while pushing it several years back in the city’s long-range transportation plan.

The assembly vote is advisory but three assembly members are part of the joint state-city planning committee that will make the decision to kill, keep or delay the bridge project.

The vote followed a five-hour public hearing.

Members heard vigorous testimony from people who said the bridge should be built quickly and others who believe it is a waste of money that will hurt Anchorage neighborhoods.

Also pending is a lawsuit filed June 22 by the mayors of Houston and Wasilla. They are asking a judge to block all attempts to change the bridge’s current status in the transportation plan.

The lawsuit names the policy committee of the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions, the official transportation and air quality planning organization.

The AMATS policy committee is made up of two state officials, Assembly members Sheila Selkregg and Patrick Flynn, and acting mayor Matt Claman.

Executives with the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, the agency created by the Legislature in 2003 to advocate for and build the bridge, asked the assembly not to kill the project. They said a second proposal to keep it alive but push it farther down in the city’s long-range transportation plan has not had enough public review, a flaw they said could cause big problems with the Federal Highway Administration.

The action was in reply to a move begun last year to start the process of deleting the bridge from the plan. Flynn described the compromise as a way to find “another way forward after hearing from the public.”

Selkregg said she still has concerns and would rather see the project deleted. The latest $680 million cost estimate carries “extraordinarily big risks” that the amount “could be considerably greater over time,” she said. Such large amounts of federal transportation dollars might hamper more important projects such as Glenn Highway improvements and a highway-to-highway connection planned for downtown, she said.

The compromise, unanimously recommended by a technical committee of engineers and traffic planners, keeps the bridge authority operating and allows it to continue planning, designing and looking for ways to finance the project. The compromise also adds the idea of including a rail connection on the bridge, along with pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

Assemblyman Dan Coffey said the project’s place in the long-range plan could be revisited and changed back as soon as 2011.

The choice is kill the project or keep it alive long enough for solutions to be found for it, he said.

“If you take it out, you’re done,” he said.

Michael Foster, board chairman of the bridge authority, warned that the compromise may be different enough from the original plan to delete the project and that it may legally need more public comment time.

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