Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dittman Poll Shows Over 60% Of Alaskan Respondents Support The Proposed Knik Arm Bridge

Special Update: This post updated and re-posted on March 13th, 2007 at 10:20 A.M. AST to include references to a since-published Anchorage Daily News story offering significantly more detail on this issue, as well as a direct link to the Dittman poll report itself. Additions and changes posted in green.

The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) announced on March 12th, 2007 that a recent poll taken by the Dittman Research Corporation showed that in Anchorage, 62% of respondents favored the bridge, while 68% of Mat-Su respondents agreed with the project (the Anchorage Daily News report combined the numbers and found 64% overall in favor). The release of the information was obviously timed to influence the Anchorage Municipal Assembly, which is expected to take a vote on whether the project should be included in the city's long-range transportation plan during their regular meeting on March 13th. A proposed transportation project must be included on a local or state transportation plan in order to unlock federal funding for the project in question. Original story from KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage. An additional more comprehensive story has since been published in the Anchorage Daily News (ADN), including a link to the Dittman poll report itself.

According to Dave Dittman, 506 people in Anchorage and the Mat-Su borough were asked a series of 33 questions about the potential advantages and drawbacks of a prospective Knik Arm crossing. Towards the end of the poll, it asked, "What is your personal opinion about the Knik Arm crossing?" And that's when the numbers came out. The breakdown: 34% strongly favor the bridge, 30% somewhat favor it, 16% are somewhat opposed, and 19% strongly opposed.

What's more interesting is that only a limited number of respondents professed to be personally impacted. Only 18% of respondents travel between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley at least once a week, and only 17% of respondents stated that they would use the bridge at least once a week. Obviously, most proponents of the bridge are wisely looking at the bigger picture.

Dittman also stated that "Seventy-five percent agreed ... that even if they don't use it, they'll benefit because people that use it will not be overcrowding the highways that they are using".

So why did KABATA pay Dittman $25,000 for the poll? "I thought it was a good public service to put that type of information together and give it to them," said Henry Springer, the executive director of the Bridge and Toll Authority. "And if they think it's wrong or misleading, they're smart enough to figure that out."

However, Assemblyman Allan Tesche, who represents the Downtown District, where the preferred southern terminus of the bridge would be located, demurred. "Where KABATA's pollster dug up these people, I don't know," said Tesche. He also claimed that the poll conflicts with just about everything he is hearing.

"It suggests generally, and the reason why it is offered to the Assembly is to show overwhelming area-wide support for this bridge. I've not heard that. I don't know where I've been for the last three or four years, but the poll is vastly different from what the people are telling me on the street," Tesche continued. Tesche's constituents also include those on Government Hill expected to be impacted by access to the bridge. Concerns also remain over traffic congestion into downtown.

According to the ADN story, another critic, pollster Marc Hellenthal, was concerned that the question on whether or not people favored the bridge was question #30 on the poll. Hellenthal believes that the preceding questions on traffic, housing, and emergency evacuation may have served as "prep" questions to create a more favorable attitude towards the bridge in the mind of the respondent. This criticism may be valid; I would have asked the key question first in order to get a more truly "blind" response, but then again, this is the same Marc Hellenthal whose poll last summer predicted that John Binkley would defeat Sarah Palin for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Hmmm.....

Springer says his poll shows those voicing the concerns are a vocal minority. "I think the opposition has been fairly well organized and very vocal but by no means represents the majority of the people. And I think the elected bodies like the Assembly recognize that and we expect favorable action out of the local administration," he said.

March 13th is also the deadline for private financial companies to submit their proposals to fund the project. KABATA says it needs to raise $500 million but only one proposal has been submitted so far. And the financial spigot will not gush forth so long as we continue to equivocate on this project.

Commentary: This is particularly why the location of the southern terminus must be reconsidered. To cut it through Government Hill would take some housing out of circulation in an increasingly scarce housing market, disrupt the general character of the Government Hill neighborhood, and divert an unmanageable glut of vehicular traffic directly into downtown. Not all commuters from the Valley work downtown - some work on the east side of Anchorage, others in South Anchorage. A Downtown terminus could complicate their commute.

Either the Hiland Road terminus, which is preferred, should be adopted, or the Boniface terminus, as a compromise. The Hiland Road terminus requires more construction, but will bypass both Elmendorf AFB and Fort Richardson to the north, and seamlessly integrate southbound Knik Traffic into the Glenn Highway about five miles short of Anchorage.

And, in answer to Allan Tesche's questions about who Dave Dittman's been talking to, how about a cross-sample of 500 people throughout South Central Alaska? Tesche's heard primarily from his constituents, many of who would be adversely affected. The Hiland Road terminus corrects this problem. By the way, Dave Dittman is considered the most reliable pollster in Alaska. During the closing days of the 2006 general election campaign, when other pollsters had Sarah Palin up by only 2-3 percentage points, Dittman had her up by 10 points or more. Palin won by 8 percentage points.

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