Bridge vote still on the table

Assembly postpones action on Funny River crossing proposition

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly reached no decision Tuesday whether to place an advisory ballot proposition regarding the proposed Funny River Bridge project on the fall ballot.

After nearly an hour of wrangling over how to word ballot questions, the assembly voted to postpone a decision until the Aug. 2 meeting. That day is the last day on which issues could be added to the Oct. 4 municipal ballot.

Because borough funds likely would play a part in financing a bridge spanning the Kenai River near Sterling, voters from across the borough probably would participate in the advisory election.

As introduced, Resolution 2005-070 would place these questions before Road Service Area voters:

Should the state construct the bridge; and should the borough contribute toward the project?

The borough administration hopes to obtain a definitive picture of public opinion about the Kenai River span, a project whose advocates say is long overdue for access and safety reasons, and whose opponents say either no bridge is necessary or they don't like its suggested location north of Rabbit Run Road.

There are a host of issues surrounding the project. About $5 million in federal funds have been earmarked for the project, an amount that needs a $1.25 million match; a now largely out-of-date environmental impact statement may have to be redone; the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has spent several hundred thousand dollars on preliminary work, including the EIS; and cost estimates made in the late 1990s are very much out of date. Current ballpark estimates by the borough put the price tag between $10 million and $20 million.

Further, the project is not listed under the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program as eligible for more federal funds, and the borough isn't anxious to build and maintain it on its own.

All those considerations are coloring the spectrum of public opinion about the project to a degree that it is not easily discernible whether the pros or cons dominate.

"Let's get this bridge built. It's been needed for a long time for mutual aid," said Bill Parker, who has lived on Funny River Road since 1979.

Dale Steckel said the bridge location was an issue, but other matters were more important in determining if the bridge is a viable project. He said the proposed ballot proposition language was so confusing he could say yes to the bridge, but no to state or borough financial participation.

"What question have you answered?" he said. "I believe the ballot should only say: 'Do you support construction of the bridge?' If the answer is no, all other issues are moot. If the answer is yes, then we proceed on."

Steckel said he supports construction of a bridge but has a problem with its proposed location.

Richard Galloway said the proposed ballot measure lacks sufficient information on which voters might make an informed decision. He said he opposes the current location, though he is not totally against a bridge.

"But I'm totally against a bridge if I don't know what it's going to cost and all that sort of that stuff," he said.

David Morris said he is opposed to the bridge.

"And not solely due to its location," he said. "It is not needed and cannot be economically justified."

The assembly made several attempts to rework the ballot language but failed to reach agreement. Assembly member Paul Fischer of Kasilof moved to postpone the measure until Aug. 2.

At first, it was rejected. But after more fruitless debate, the assembly agreed to wait and try again.

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