Bridge to Nowhere controversy

Bridge to Nowhere controversy

The Bridge to Nowhere, also known as the "Gravina Island Bridge", was a proposed bridge to replace the ferry that currently connects Ketchikan, Alaska, to the Gravina Island's 50 residents, and the Ketchikan International Airport. The bridge was projected to cost $398 million. Members of the Alaskan congressional delegation, particularly Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, were the bridge's biggest advocates in Congress, and helped push for federal funding. [cite paper |title= $315 Million Bridge to Nowhere |url= |publisher=Taxpayers for Common Sense | format = PDF |date=2005-08-22 |accessdate=2006-11-06] The project encountered fierce opposition outside of Alaska as a symbol of pork barrel spending. [cite web |title=Alaska: End Sought For 'bridge To Nowhere' |url= |publisher= The New York Times |date=2007-09-22]


According to the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, the project's goal was to "provide better service to the airport and allow for development of large tracts of land on the island". [cite web |title = Ketchikan Gravina Island Access Project |url= |publisher= Alaska DOT |accessdate=2008-08-31]

A ferry runs to the island every 30 minutes during most of the year, except during the May–September peak tourist season, when it runs every 15 minutes. It charges $5 per adult, with free same-day return, and $6 per automobile each way (as of|2008|lc=on). [cite web |title=Airport Ferry Fees |url=]

According to "USA Today", the bridge was to have been nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. [cite news |last=Jans |first=Nick |title= Alaska thanks you |url= |publisher=USA Today | date=2005-05-17 |accessdate=2006-11-06] The bridge would cross the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska's Inside Passage, so the bridge was designed to be tall enough to accommodate ship traffic, including the Alaska Marine Highway and the cruise ships which frequent Alaskan waters during the summer.

Ketchikan's airport is the second largest in Southeast Alaska, after Juneau International Airport, handling over 200,000 passengers a year, while the ferry shuttled 350,000 people in the same time period (as of|2006|12|lc=on). [cite web |title= Ketchikan airport and ferry statistics for December 2006 |url= |format= PDF] In comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge carried more than 43,000,000 vehicles in 2006, or about 118,000 vehicles each day.cite web |title= Annual Average Daily Truck Traffic on the California State Highway System, 2006, p. 169 |url= | format = PDF]


The controversy began with the 2006 National Appropriations Bill. This was an omnibus spending bill covering Transportation, housing, and urban development for the next year. On October 20, 2005, H.R. 3058 [109th] act's first version passed with 93 votes for, 1 against. [cite web |title=National Transportation Budget |url= 2006]

On October 21, 2005, Sen Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered an amendment to remove funds for the Gravina Island and Knik Arm bridges, and divert the funds to rebuild a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska became the object of strong media criticism when he strongly opposed diverting the Gravina and Knik Arm Bridge funds to help in the disaster aid. [cite web |title=Stevens Vehemently Opposes Coburn Amendment to Eliminate Alaska Bridges |url=] In his speech on the Senate floor, Stevens threatened to quit Congress if the funds were removed from his state.cite news | last = Ruskin | first = Liz | title = Stevens says he'll quit if bridge funds diverted | url = | publisher = Anchorage Daily News | date = 2005-10-21 | accessdate = 2006-11-06 ] On Wednesday November 16, 2005, Congress stripped the specific earmark allocation of federal funds for the two bridges in the final edition of the omnibus spending bill, without changing the amount of money allocated for use by Alaska. [cite web | title = 'Bridge to nowhere' abandoned | publisher = Associated Press | work = | date = 2007-09-22 | url = ] [cite web |last=Murray |first=Shailagh |title=For a Senate Foe of Pork Barrel Spending, Two Bridges Too Far |url= |publisher=The Washington Post |date=2005-10-20] [cite web |title= Two Bridges to Nowhere Tumble Down in Congress |url= |date= 2005-11-17] The Coburn Amendment was defeated with a heavy bipartisan majority, 82-15 in opposition. [cite web | title= Coburn Amendment | url=]

In September 2006, during her campaign for Governor, Sarah Palin visited Ketchikan to express her support for the Gravina Island Bridge project. At a public forum, Palin held up a pro-bridge t-shirt designed by a Ketchikan artist, Mary Ida Henrikson. The legend on the shirt was "Nowhere Alaska 99901", referencing the buzzword of "Bridge to Nowhere" and the primary zip code of Ketchikan. In her public comments, referring to her own residence in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, she said: "OK, you’ve got Valley trash standing here in the middle of nowhere. I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project" in response to an insult expressed by the state Senate president, Ben Stevens.

In October 2006, when asked, "Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?", she answered: "Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now - while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." [Citation | title = Where they stand (10/22/2006)| newspaper = Anchorage Daily News | date = 2008-08-29 | url =] Later that month, at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Wasilla, Alaska, Democratic candidate Tony Knowles criticized Palin for supporting the Knik Arm Bridge, the Gravina Island Bridge, and a road north out of Juneau instead of rebuilding the Parks Highway. The "Ketchikan Daily News" noted that, of the gubernatorial candidates, "Only Palin is consistent in support all of the projects..." [cite web |title= Palin Criticized during gubernatorial campaign for her support of Gravina Island Bridge |url= |date= 2006-10-26 ] [cite web |title= Palin voiced initial support for the proposed Gravina Island bridge during campaign |url= |date=2006-09-21] [cite web |title= Palin defends the bridge project, asks people to band together |url= |date= 2006-10-02] [ [] Candidate Palin Supported the Gravina Island Bridge project days before gubernatorial election.] [cite web |title= Palin Criticized during gubernatorial campaign for her support of Gravina Island Bridge |url= |date= 2006-10-28]

During her inaugural address on December 4, 2006, Governor Palin pledged responsible spending. [] On January 17, 2007, she sent a revised budget to the President of the Alaska Senate that would restrict capital spending, in order to live within their means, and rescinded the $185M state share of the bridge funding. []

In August 2007, Alaska's Department of Transportation stated that it was "leaning" toward alternative ferry options, citing bridge costs and the reluctance of Governor Palin to pay the State's match to the appropriated federal funds. [ [ DOT 'leaning' toward ferries; cites bridge cost] ] A month later, in September 2007, Palin formally canceled the project. [cite web |title= Palin was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it |url= |date= 2008-09-01] [cite web |title= Congress earmark alteration for Alaska prompts Governor Palin's new state budget without bridge. |url= |date= 2007-02-03] [cite web |title= Lawmakers deal with voter anger over 'pork' |url= |publisher= Associated Press |work= USA Today |date= 2006-05-02 |accessdate= 2008-09-10 ] Palin stated:

Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer. Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened. [cite press release |title= Gravina Access Project Redirected |publisher= State of Alaska |date= 2007-09-21 |url= |accessdate= 2008-09-25] [cite web |title= Ted Earmarked Funds for Bridge that Goes Nowhere |url= |publisher= The Alaska Democratic Party |work=]

Asked why she initially supported the bridge, Palin's communications director Bill McAllister said, "It was never at the top of her priority list, and in fact the project isn't necessarily dead … there's still the potential for improved ferry service or even a bridge of a less costly design... She changed her mind, he said, when "she saw that Alaska was being perceived as taking from the country and not giving..." [cite web |last=F. |first=Robert |title= Palin changed her mind for public expediency |url= |publisher= Gather Inc. |date=2008-08-31 |accessdate=2008-09-25]

The city of Ketchikan has already begun to develop roads and a small amount of infrastructure for the Gravina Island's 50 inhabitants. However, residents continue to seek funding for the Ketchikan-Gravina span. [cite web |last= Quinn |first= Steve |title= Alaska abandons controversial Ketchikan bridge project |url= |publisher= The Associated Press |work= The Seattle Times |date= 2007-09-22 |accessdate= 2008-09-10]

2008 campaign issue

On August 29, 2008, when introduced as Republican Presidential nominee John McCain's running mate, Palin told the crowd: "I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere" — a line that garnered big applause but upset political leaders in Ketchikan. Palin's campaign coordinator in the city, Republican Mike Elerding, remarked, "She said 'thanks but no thanks,' but they kept the money." Ketchikan's Democratic Mayor Bob Weinstein also criticized Palin for using the very term 'bridge to nowhere' that she had said was insulting when she was in favor of the bridge. [cite web |first= Yereth |last= Rosen |title= Palin "bridge to nowhere" line angers many Alaskans |url= |publisher= Reuters |date= 2008-01-01 ]

Although Palin was originally a main proponent of the bridge, McCain–Palin television advertisements since September claim Palin "stopped the Bridge to Nowhere".Cite web |last= Kurtz |first= Howard |author-link= Howard Kurtz |title= Claiming the 'Maverick' Brand |url= |work = The Washington Post |date= 2008-09-08 |accessdate= 2008-09-25] [cite news |last=Romano |first=Andrew |title=The Politics of the 'Bridge to Nowhere' |url= |publisher=Newsweek |work=Stumper |date=2008-09-08 |accessdate=2008-09-08] Howard Kurtz called this a "whopper", writing: "She endorsed the remote project while running for governor in 2006, claimed to be an opponent only after Congress killed its funding the next year and has used the $223 million provided for it for other state ventures." These claims have been widely questioned or described as misleading in several newspapers across the political spectrum. [cite web |last=Holmes |first=Elizabeth |coauthors= Meckler, Laura |title=Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claims |url= |publisher= Wall Street Journal |date=2008-09-09 |accessdate=2008-09-11] [cite web |last=Woodward |first=Calvin |title= Fact Check: Palin and the Bridge to Nowhere |url= |publisher= Associated Press |date= 2008-09-08 |accessdate=2008-09-10] [cite news |last= Kirkpatrick |first=David |coauthors = Rohter, Larry |title= Account of a Bridge’s Death Slightly Exaggerated |url= |work= The New York Times |date= 2008-08-31 |accessdate=2008-09-10] [cite news |last= Weisman |first= Jonathan |title=As Campaign Heats Up, Untruths Can Become Facts Before They're Undone |url= |work= "The Washington Post" |date= 2008-09-10 |accessdate=2008-09-10] "Newsweek", commenting on Palin's "astonishing pivot," remarked: "Now she talks as if she always opposed the funding."cite news |title=An Apostle of Alaska |url= |work=Newsweek |publisher= |date=2008-09-06 |accessdate=2008-09-08]

McCain has also weighed in on the Gravina Island Bridge. In advertisements, McCain labeled the bridge as wasteful spending. [cite web |title=Advertisement for John McCain 2008 |url=] and in an August 2007 townhall speech recorded on video [ [ YouTube] ] and quoted again on April 30, 2008, [cite web |title=McCain Blamed Bridge collapse on Bridge to Nowhere |url= |publisher= Kos Media LLC. |date=2008-09-10] he blamed the tragedy of the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapse on the Bridge to Nowhere. His advertising and comments which before September 21, 2006 contradicted Governor Sarah Palin's support of the bridge drew the attention of the media, [cite web |last= Elko |first= Tom |title=McCain connected 35W bridge collapse to Palin’s pork |url= |work= Minnesot Independant |publihser=The Center for Independent Media |date=2008-09-09 |accessdate=2008-09-23] when he chose Palin as his running mate.

While discussing the Bridge to Nowhere during an interview on ABC news that aired on September 12, 2008, Charles Gibson made the following comment: "but it's now pretty clearly documented. You supported that bridge before you opposed it. You were wearing a t-shirt in the 2006 campaign, showed your support for the bridge to nowhere." Palin interrupted Gibson and insisted, "I was wearing a t-shirt with the zip code of the community that was asking for that bridge. Not all the people in that community even were asking for a $400 million or $300 million bridge." [cite web |last=Gibson |first=Charles |title= Excerpts: Charlie Gibson Interviews GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin |url= |publisher= ABC News |date=2008-09-12 |accessdate= 2008-09-13]

Many media groups in the US, says the "Sydney Morning Herald", have noted that Palin changed her position regarding the bridges, and concluded that she exaggerated her claim that she stopped the proposals from going through.cite web |last= Davies |first= Anne |url= |title=Press picks over litter of lies on the Palin trail - US Election |format= |work=Sydney Morning Herald |date=2008-09-15 |accessdate=2009-09-15] According to the "Los Angeles Times" for instance, while seeking votes for her governorship race, Palin told Ketchikan residents that she backed the "bridge to nowhere"; as governor, she spent the money elsewhere and moved ahead with a $26-million road to the nonexistent bridge.cite web |last=Hayasaki |first=Erika |title=Sarah Palin said yes, thanks, to a road to nowhere in Alaska |url=,0,5316609.story |publisher=Los Angeles Times|format= |work= |date=2008-09-19 |accessdate=2008-09-19]

"Road to Nowhere"

Palin has spent more than $25 million in federal funds to build the Gravina Island Highway on Gravina Island to the place where the proposed bridge would have gone, because, according to Alaskan state officials, the $25 million would otherwise have had to be returned to the Federal government. [Kizzia, Tom. [ "Palin touts stance on 'Bridge to Nowhere,' doesn't note flip-flop"] , "Anchorage Daily News" (2008-08-31)] As "no one seems to use" this road, it has been called the "road to nowhere" by CNN, many local Alaskans, and hundreds of other media sources. cite web |title= Bailout Negotiations Continue; FBI Targets Wall Street Firms |url= |publisher= CNN |date= 2008-09-23] [*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS&um=1&sa=N&tab=wn] [*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS]

CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau took a helicopter over the road to give "a real perspective of what the road really looks like." "There's no one on this road," she said, "It kind of just curves around then it just stops. That's where the bridge was supposed to pick up, right there." Boudreau said she "tried to find someone in town who actually supported the road. So we contacted Palin's former campaign coordinator [Mike Elderling] , an avid Palin supporter. But even he had a hard time not laughing." Elerding agreed that the road was a waste of tax-payer's money without the bridge.

McCain-Palin Campaign Spokesperson Meghan Stapleton defended the road: "The governor could not change that earmark. That earmark was given. That earmark was dictated. That had to be spent on the Gravina road and nothing else. And so, the governor had no options." Boudreau asked Stapleton if Palin could have stopped construction. Stapleton responded: "My understanding is that -- you know, I'd have to look into that for you. I don't know." Later Stapleton told Boudreau, Palin had no "viable alternative" because the contract for the road was signed before Palin came into office. Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Roger Wetherell disagrees. He said Palin could have cancelled that contract upon taking office and reimbursed contractors for any expenses incurred in association with the project, as happened when Palin cancelled a $18.6 million contract on a Juneau road and reimbursed the contractor for $65,500 in expenses. Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox said Palin could have opted not to use the federal earmark, which would have allowed Congress the opportunity to send it to other federal needs. []


External links

* [ Alaska DOT Official site]
* [ Taxpayers for Common Sense (opposition)]
* []
* [;sid=05/08/18/07013830;cid=29 $220 Million+ For A Bridge To An Island With 50 People?!?] — on
* [ Webliography: `The Bridge to Nowhere'] Eric Zorn, "Chicago Tribune", September 9, 2008

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