Posted by MataHarley on 31 August, 2008 at 6:13 pm. 31 comments already!

It boggles the mind the desperate Obama supporters could try to make an issue out of a Governor demonstrating fiscal responsibility. Yet already we have a few regulars and visitors regurgitating the latest Obama camp talking points… screaming flip flop.

So is it? Again, I put my nose down to track down the details on the infamous “Bridge to No Where”…. or, as known to Alaskans… as the Gravina Island Bridge to Ketchikan’s Int’l Airport.

And again, it all comes down to the timeline of events, and how Sarah Palin did the fiscally responsible thing. The history:

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski (CAGW’s “Porker of the Month” for Jan 2006), plus GOPs Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep Don Young were trying to shove the Gravina bridge project thru in his final lame duck months. From the Citizens against Govt Waste site, Nov 21, 2006:

Even though the Bridge to Nowhere has gone nowhere fast since Congress stripped it of its federal earmark, outgoing Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski (R) is still trying to keep the project alive.

According to the Associated Press, the lame duck governor hopes to award a $30 million contract for roadwork leading to the proposed bridge by December 1 three days before he leaves office. Incoming Republican Governor-elect Sarah Paulin supports construction of the bridge but has neither commented on the current governor’s actions nor explained how she plans to cover the cost.

~~~

In a last desperate attempt to salvage this project, Gov. Murkowski is rushing the Alaska Department of Transportation to find a contractor to begin the “Bridge to Nowhere” project before his term runs out.

But it is not clear where the additional funds will come from. Alaska had the opportunity to use its share of federal transportation funds for the bridge, but instead diverted the money to other, more pressing projects, while the state legislature did not include the measure in their capital budget. Negative publicity and public sentiment make further federal earmarks all but impossible, but the governor forges on.

Note the timing. The national ridicule over the earmark, plus the release of the funds sans mandate they are used for the bridge, all happened before Sarah Palin took office. This means what she inherited was the funds which could be used for whatever the State deemed higher in priority.

As the anti-Palin blogger, Mudracker quotes from an old 9-28-06 issue of the Ketchikan Daily News, the then campaigning Sarah Palin was not about to get in the way of the Congressional efforts.

“People across the nation struggle with the idea of building a bridge because they’ve been under these misperceptions about the bridge and the purpose,’ said Palin, who described the link as the Ketchikan area’s potential for expansion and growth.

Palin said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge and that she ‘would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge’.

‘We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s so negative,’ Palin said.”

Then again, as a candidate, and not an “in”, Palin was also not in possession of budgetary specifics either. Despite that, and with the obvious national controversy, Palin did say they were considering other alternatives to the bridge late in her campaign. Among these was a more efficient ferry system to replace the current ferry.

Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Saturday that as projected costs for the Ketchikan bridge rose to nearly $400 million, administration officials were telling Ketchikan that the project looked less likely. Local leaders shouldn’t have been surprised when Palin announced she was turning to less-costly alternatives, Leighow said. Indeed, Leighow produced a report quoting Palin, late in the governor’s race, indicating she would also consider alternatives to a bridge.

After the election, and prior to Palin taking office late December 24th, 2006, her transition team gave her their Dec 19th reporton Southeast Region of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Gov. Sarah Palin must deal with serious morale problems in the Southeast Region of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, according to a report from her transition team.

The problems stem from former Gov. Frank Murkowski’s attempts to rush two controversial road projects in the last days of his administration, the 12-member team said.

The investigators found “great employee strife and conflict over these projects impacting overall morale,” in Southeast.

~~~

Both the Juneau road and the Ketchikan Gravina Island Bridge project, known by its detractors as the “Bridge to Nowhere,” drew criticism in the report.

“Statewide, these two projects are seen as a severe drain on resources that would otherwise be assigned to heavily used commercial and passenger routes,” the report said.

The team said federal earmarks in Congressional appropriations trump all other priorities, including those in the State Transportation Improvement Plan, and the state suffers as a result.

The team consisted mostly of Anchorage residents with experience in roads and engineering. Its members interviewed engineering firms, construction contractors, trucking companies, transportation-related associations, department employees and the public.

The group reached “near consensus” about transportation issues and made a recommendation that the state’s National Highway System roads be the focus of improvement efforts. Those are the roads in Alaska that carry most of the people and business traffic.

Based on her transition team’s report, Palin did the first fiscally responsible act as Governor, and canceled Murkowski’s controversial project linking Juneau to the nation’s highway system upon taking office.

She also put a halt to the Gravina bridge construction, but stepped more cautiously on totally abandoning the bridge project – which had been been promised and in the works for decades. However it was obvious that the funds were inadequate for the bridge, which had then swelled to $300-$400 million in cost from the original $190 million in 2003.

Another indicator Ms. Palin was not convinced this bridge was the right way to go was noted in this March 2007 NYTs story on the bridge story’s progress a year later. Knowing that the funding was short of the ever increasing costs, Ms. Palin never included additional money for the Gravina bridge in the state budget. Obviously, she was not convinced enough to commit the State and taxpayers to debt by rubber stamping construction.

But Gravina’s access and growth problems still had to be addressed in some way. And if Ms. Palin’s attitude was similar to Ketchikan’s Mayor Williams, just slamming the project door shut as quickly as she had the Juneau road project could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.

Regardless of the ridicule about the bridges as a pork-barrel binge, there are political facts that have kept hope alive for those who believe the projects are necessary for Alaska to grow economically.

To direct the federal financing to other projects, for example, would require action by Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, and the State Legislature. It would also mean undoing the work of the powerful Congressional delegation, led by Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young, both Republicans, who secured the money for the bridges.

“No way in the world am I going to put myself in that position,” said Mayor Joe Williams of Ketchikan Gateway Borough. “These guys were put through the wringer.”

He added, referring to Mr. Young, “I may talk about it 10 years after he’s dead and gone, but no way in the world am I going to do that now. I’m supporting that man because he supported us. That would be like going to Dad and talking about something Dad asked us to do and we didn’t do it. That’s not a good idea.”

~~~

Mal Menzies, director for the southeast region of the state transportation department, noted that Ms. Palin had not included more money for Gravina in her proposed budget and that state planners were simply dealing in reality.

“I think the community is starting to see that the money for this project is not there,” Mr. Menzies said. “They could be open to smaller bridges, but the problem is we don’t even have the monies for the smaller bridges yet.”

Feb 26, 2007, just two months after Palin had taken office, and had received budgetary reports on the Gravina bridge, the Anchorage Daily News ran an editorial asking Palin to say no to the bridge construction, and shut down further spending.

Governor, please say no and shut down spending.

The project has some federal money but is short about $300 million. No one expects Congress to kick in any more cash, and most legislators aren’t willing to open up the state checkbook. So the likely place to find $300 million is from the pockets of users. But we’re not talking about dropping a few coins into a toll basket. Get ready to dig into your wallet and pull out a lot of bills to drive on a long approach ramp to climb 200 feet in the air on one bridge, then down on a middle island, then up 120 feet in the air on a second bridge to reach the airport island, and down again on another long ramp. Or just leave it as is, and ride the shuttle ferry a few minutes for the short walk to the terminal.

At that point, Palin was still allowing design and feasibility to still go forward. So where are we now:

  • She inherited the controversial project, knowing there was a need.
  • The transition team’s reports showed the that project, plus another, were not fiscally responsible and the federal funding came no where close to paying for the bridge.
  • She did not allocate any State monies for go ahead with the expensive bridge
  • Many Alaskans, including those in Ketchikan, were also opposed to the bridge at that expense
  • They were considering alternative methods.
  • Between the fiscal analyses, plus dissenting voices protesting the expense it would lay upon the taxpayers, is it any wonder that by September 2007, Palin officially canned the Bridge to Nowhere project, to the criticism of it’s advocates.

    “We will continue to look for options for Ketchikan to allow better access to the island,” the Republican governor said. “The concentration is not going to be on a $400 million bridge.”

    Palin directed state transportation officials to find the most “fiscally responsible” alternative for access to the airport. She said the best option would be to upgrade the ferry system.

    ~~~

    The town — seven blocks wide and eight miles long — has little room to grow. Local officials have said access to Gravina Island, population 50, is needed for the town and its economy to grow.

    They called the state’s decision premature, saying it came without warning.

    “For somebody who touts process and transparency in getting projects done, I’m disappointed and taken aback,” said state Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan. “We worked 30 years to get funding for this priority project.”

    Premature? Perhaps to those not paying attention to her obvious lack of commitment.

    Which brings us to the appearance of her decision appearing politically expedient. It was only a month earlier when McCain criticized the earmarks, citing that such pet projects could have gone a long way in preventing disasters such as the MN bridge collapse.

    “Maybe if we had done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country,” McCain told a group of people in a town-hall style meeting in Ankeny, Iowa.

    “Maybe the 200,000 people who cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your tax dollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it.”

    I’m sure those that prefer to insist that Ms. Palin is an opportunist will ignore the facts that her own transition team advised against the bridge, and that she had already put a halt to another of Murkowski’s extravagant projects.

    The anti-Palin types may also prefer not to notice that Ms. Palin stated during her campaign that other alternatives were being considered, and that she deliberately did not set aside additional funding for the bridge in her budget.

    One also has to eliminate pandering to McCain for a Veep spot in that era as well.

    So the charge she did the politically expedient thing just doesn’t hold much water. It’s hardly a decision that came out of no where. A flip flop? She would have had to have been fully on board with the project since day one for it to be a complete turn around. Indications that she wasn’t sold on the idea were there from the beginning.

    Instead Palin approached the project with the respect due to both the Ketchikan residents and the advocates who had worked so long to secure the funding. And in the end, she opted to do the right fiscal thing for the State.

    The governor urged Alaskans not to dwell on the bridge.

    “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here,” Palin said. “But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.”

    If taking a cautious approach to spending and development feasibility, followed by the right decision, is a liability in a political executive administrator, I’ll take that any day of the week.

    ~~~

    UPDATED 9-12-08 In case I didn’t make this clear, the bridge funds were diverted from that specific earmark to general transportation fund projects by Congress, and approved by both Biden and Obama (rather than diverting to Katrina projects)…

    ….. in 2005…. a year BEFORE Palin took office From a Nov 2005 WaPo article…

    The $223 million span linking the small town of Ketchikan to sparsely populated Gravina Island and a second Alaskan bridge project have been stripped of their funding by congressional negotiators as they race to wrap up legislative business.

    That decision reflects a growing unease among Republicans of criticism of runaway government spending in a transportation bill that includes 6,000-plus special projects for House members’ districts. But the maneuver is largely cosmetic and may only slow the bridge projects. As part of the deal, Alaska will get to keep the $454 million that Congress set aside for the two bridges, and technically the state can use the transportation funds for any project it chooses — including the bridges. [Mata note: Which of course Palin did not plan to do by not allocating state budget funds and following the advise of her transition team report Dec 19th, 2006]

    ~~~

    The Senate tried unsuccessfully last month to redirect a portion of the Alaska bridge funds to fix a heavily traveled interstate bridge outside New Orleans that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. That effort drew furious words and a resignation threat from veteran Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), former chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

    ~~~

    “It’s largely symbolic,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who would have preferred to strike all $24 billion in special projects that members stuffed into the highway bill. “The money will still go to Alaska,” as opposed to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, or to fund other budget priorities, McCain said.

    One more time for anyone that is fact retention challenged… A YEAR BEFORE PALIN TOOK OFFICE!

    She cannot return bridge funds that she did not receive. She received transportation funds that she could have still allocated for the Gravina Bridge. She did not pursue the bridge because it was not cost effective for the Alaskan taxpayers. So she killed the deal.

    To suggest Palin took bridge earmark dollars, instead of transportation funds, is beating a dead horse. No matter how many times the MSM try to portray it any differently, the facts remain the same.

    Yet the MSM continues to make fools of gullible guppies by planting false claims for the Obama faithful to spread – and for no other reason than to blatantly support Obama.

    To me, the real story is the 4th branch of openly and deliberately spreading lies by avoiding the timeline facts in order to elect a candidate. OMG… when the media is so overtly partisan, we are in deep sheeeeeeeeet.

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