Is Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” going somewhere?

Alaska’s “road to nowhere” would have led to the proposed Gravina Island Bridge, now known as “the bridge to nowhere.” (Photo: Tom Brady / Flickr)Alaska’s “road to nowhere” would have led to the proposed Gravina Island Bridge, now known as “the bridge to nowhere.” (Photo: Tom Brady / Flickr)

Maybe someone is getting ready to take the “dead end” sign off America’s most infamous non-bridge.

According to the Associated Press, Alaska has “proposed six ‘build’ alternatives to improve access between the Southeast Alaska community of Ketchikan and Gravina Island, where the Ketchikan International Airport is located. The alternatives include two bridge and four ferry options; there also is a no-action alternative. Comments are being taken through Aug. 13, with a goal of reaching a decision by next spring.”

This is of course the non-bridge that caused vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to say she’d told Congress “thanks but no thanks” for the bridge funding even though she asked for, received and kept the funding.

It’s interesting that now the problem is, to a great extent, one of funding. Alaska needs to grow, and it needs bridges such as this one to be part of its infrastructure as it grows. Growth of course, will bring in money. But the bridge needs money to spur the growth. And around we go.

Caterpillar chairman Doug Oberhelman addressed this bridge to nowhere, and others, during our Better Roads One 2 One interview in September 2011.

“But the bridge to nowhere – not just the bridge in Alaska necessarily – but the concept of the bridge to nowhere really hurt this industry. Our industry was the innocent bystander victim of that … it was the politicians who brought us these kinds of things and funded them without the cost benefit and really without the national priority of investment priority they needed.”

His broad point was that the public was not going to get behind politicians trying to find funding for transportation infrastructure as long a there was such blatant evidence (thanks to this bridge and other mind-boggling boondoggles) that tax money was being tossed around like play money by people who didn’t seem to care about the people supplying them with that tax money.

If Alaska’s progress on this project shows more careful stewardship of money, more thought into what a community really wants and needs, more interactivity with the people of the area and more understanding of long-term planning and this area’s future–and can somehow show the people of Alaska and the lower 48 that things have changed–maybe we’ve moved beyond the bridges-to-nowhere era.

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Perhaps evidence that a learning curve for politicians, while slow, actually exists.