Stevens: Knik Arm bridge and railroad expansion top priorities

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Sen. Ted Stevens said funding for a Knik Arm crossing and an expansion of the Alaska Railroad are among his top transportation projects for the state.

Stevens, R-Alaska, met with reporters Tuesday at his Anchorage office. He called a Knik Arm bridge ''an absolute necessity'' for the city's future.

Stevens said a bridge is needed because the Anchorage Bowl, bordered by water, military land and mountains, is quickly running out of room to grow.

Some opponents of the idea argue that a bridge would lead to urban sprawl, which has been a hindrance to growth of many Lower 48 cities. Others advocate a commuter rail system between Anchorage and Mat-Su, which they say would cost much less.

Stevens is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for annually allocating more than a half-trillion dollars in federal funds.

Stevens and Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee and Infrastructure Committee, have a solid track record of directing federal money to Alaska transportation projects.

Both are frequently criticized by other lawmakers and budget watchdogs as pork-barrel spenders.

A spokesman for Young, R-Alaska, said Tuesday money for a Knik Arm crossing also is at the top of the congressman's list of his priorities in a massive $375 billion transportation bill expected to be introduced this fall.

Current cost estimates for a bridge range from $600 million to $2 billion.

In an effort to help drive demand for a bridge, Stevens earmarked $5 million for a ferry across Knik Arm in an early draft of the 2003 appropriations budget. But in the final version, that money was set aside for study, design and preliminary engineering of a bridge.

Stevens said he withdrew his support for a ferry because it might delay the availability of money for a bridge.

''Since Congressman Young is in the position he's in now, a very strong position to start the bridge, I'm working as hard as I can with him to see that the bridge starts,'' Stevens said.

The idea of constructing a highway span between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie has been around for decades. The largely undeveloped Mat-Su side can be seen from the shores of Anchorage, but it takes about two hours to drive around Knik Arm to get there.

The state already has taken some steps toward a bridge, creating the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, a state agency that will be authorized to receive federal funds and issue revenue bonds to finance it.

Getting money to help the state-owned Alaska Railroad extend to Fort Greely and, ultimately, link to the Canadian rail system also is on Stevens' transportation to-do list.

Currently, the railroad tracks end at Eielson Air Force Base, outside Fairbanks. The U.S. Army has already begun constructing an anti-ballistic missile testing facility and plans to develop target ranges for armored Stryker vehicles at Fort Greely, about 100 miles to the southeast.

State lawmakers last March passed a resolution supporting the extension of the railroad to Fort Greely, and Stevens said he'll try to get some federal dollars to help pay for that.

Ultimately, he said, he'd like to see the Alaska Railroad further extended into Canada, where it ultimately could link to the Lower 48's rail system.

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