Congressional appropriators are considering deleting the recent SAFETEA-LU transportation measure's specified funding for two big Alaska bridge projects, but the lawmakers wouldn't remove the money altogether. Instead, a key Senator says, they would put the projects' combined $454-million allocation into Alaska's overall highway allotment and let state officials decide how to spend it.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) a senior appropriator and defender of the projects, says, "I'm disappointed that the issue was raised in the first place." Stevens says that under the envisioned change in a transportation appropriations measure, "It's up to Alaska to decide how to use that money."
The projects are: an envisioned two-mile-long Knik Arm Bridge, which would link Anchorage to Port MacKenzie, which had SAFETEA-LU earmarks totaling $231 million, and a bridge from Ketchikan to the island of Gravina, funded at $223 million. Critics derided the Ketchikan project as the "Bridge to Nowhere," saying that Gravina Island only has 50 residents.
Stevens was incensed by an earlier proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to take away $75 million from the Alaska bridges and shift it to Louisiana, to repair the Lake Pontchartrain crossing damaged by Hurricane Katrina. That plan was "very obnoxious and disturbing," says Stevens, noting that it only targeted projects in Alaska. The Senate defeated Coburn's plan on Oct. 20, by an 82-15 vote.