Saturday, June 27, 2009
Airport In Nowhere: Feds To Spend $21 Million For An Airport For 46 People In Takotna, Alaska, Yet No Outrage From Opponents Of The Knik Arm Bridge
During this past week, the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS) policy committee, led by Anchorage Assembly members Patrick Flynn, Sheila Selkregg, and current acting mayor Matt Claman, voted to push back the $680 million Knik Arm Bridge project to 2018 because they believe the need has not been fully established and that the cost estimate carries serious risks that it could increase too much with the passage of time, jeopardizing funding for other transportation projects. The Knik Arm Bridge has been derided as a "Bridge To Nowhere" because relatively few people currently live at Point Mackenzie on the other side.
Fortunately, the Valley cities of Wasilla and Houston have thrown a spanner in the works. On June 24th, they sued AMATS to block the decision to push the proposed Knik Arm crossing back to 2018. The mayors of Houston and Wasilla maintain that the AMATS policy committee broke federal public notice requirements and its own procedures when it voted on a compromise to delay construction. The mayors had requested an emergency court order blocking any change for 10 days. On June 26th, Judge Sen Tan said he would consider that over the weekend, and also scheduled a second hearing for July 15th to hear more arguments on a longer-term injunction.
Yet despite the fact that the Knik Arm Bridge would potentially benefit the 320,000 people who live in Anchorage and in the part of the Mat-Su extending from Wasilla northward to Talkeetna, neither the three Assembly members nor any other opponents of the bridge have publicly questioned a Federal proposal to spend $21 million on a new airport in Takotna, a Bush Alaska metropolis bursting at the seams with 46 people (that's $500,000 per person). I seem to recall that a similar project, the Gravina Island Bridge in Ketchikan, was effectively killed because only 50 people lived on the island, despite the fact that Ketchikan's airport is also located there.
Yet somehow the proposed Takotna Airport is somehow beyond criticism? How so? Why don't we use the same standards of evaluation for both projects? How do you justify spending $21 million of taxpayer dollars (95 percent from the Feds, 5 percent from the state) on an airport to service 46 people when we have a deficit approaching $11 trillion.
A new airport is considered necessary because of exacting FAA standards universally applicable regardless of airport size. Roger Maggard, the Alaska Department of Transportation's airport manager, explained that as a result, the amount spent is not really negotiable under FAA rules. The current airport is considered no longer adequate because it is built into the side of a hill and the unlighted runway is only 1,700 feet by 45 feet. In contrast, the new airport will have a runway 3,300 feet by 75 feet.
Ironically, Takotna is only about 17 miles west of McGrath, which has its own airport and a population of 350 people. Why can't it service Takotna as well? A good reason - there's no road between Takotna and McGrath. Riverboats can sometimes be used to reach McGrath on the Kuskokwim River, depending on water levels in the Takotna River. But the airport is the only effective way in and out of Takotna.
You're telling me it would cost more than $21 million to build a simple road between Takotna and McGrath, which would effectively solve the problem? Ridiculous!
A $21 million airport for 46 people costs $500,000 per person. A $680 million bridge for a potential user base of 320,000 people costs $2,125 per person. Yet the Takotna airport project will proceed, while the Knik Arm Bridge will be delayed. Does that make sense?
The inconsistent standards used to judge both these projects reveal the true agenda of those who oppose the Knik Arm Bridge. While Patrick Flynn has been relatively forthright and honest in his opposition, both Sheila Selkregg and Matt Claman are anything but honest. They are both New Urbanists who believe that cars don't belong in cities. They want to protect artificially high property values in Anchorage so that the rich can continue to use their trophy homes as piggy banks, thus freezing out the working class from home ownership. It is intellectually dishonest to oppose the Knik Arm Bridge and support this proposed Airport in Nowhere in Takotna. Either both are justified, or neither.
My justifications for the Knik Arm Bridge were previously posted HERE, and the KABATA website is available HERE for more background.