ANCHORAGE (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski on Thursday signed a bill creating the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority.
The new state agency will be authorized to receive federal funds and issue revenue bonds to finance a bridge connecting downtown Anchorage with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
The authority will receive roughly half a million dollars from the state to fund its operations each year through 2009.
''It's going to be a long-lasting investment in Alaska's future,'' Murkowski said at a Port of Anchorage dock with Point MacKenzie visible through a light fog. ''This is an extraordinarily historic event for our state, and today marks the jumping off for this project.''
The idea of constructing a highway span between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie, a largely undeveloped part of the Mat-Su Borough, has been around for years. It takes about two hours to drive around Knik Arm to get there from Anchorage.
Proponents say a bridge would boost the economy and alleviate the land crunch in Anchorage, giving residents and businesses more room to build.
A major obstacle is cost. Estimates have ranged from $600 million to $2 billion.
A Knik Arm crossing has been high on Murkowski's transportation policy agenda since the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
Other Alaska political leaders including U.S. Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also have said they favor a Knik crossing.
Murkowski crafted the bill creating the Knik bridge authority himself, and it was introduced to the Legislature on May 6.
All five voting members of the bridge authority's board are to be the governor's appointees. They are the state revenue and transportation commissioners, plus three public members.
A full-time executive director also will manage the authority. It will start with three employees: the executive director and two support staffers. The executive director will receive a salary of $97,474, including benefits.
The governor said he's already given a lot of thought to who will run the bridge authority.
''I'm not ready to name them yet, but we do have some people in mind,'' Murkowski said. ''We'll probably be doing it in the next couple of weeks.''
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