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Advisory group says Knik Arm Bridge should be delayed, others question if it should be killed
23 June 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - An advisory group is seeking a delay in the proposed Knik Arm bridge project.

The group says the project should be pushed back about a decade, but that planning for ways to finance and build it should continue. Meanwhile, design and environmental work on the bridge would continue, as well as finding ways to finance the bridge, estimated at about $680 million.

The Anchorage Assembly has a public hearing Wednesday on whether the project should be deleted from the area's long-range transportation plan altogether. A policy committee of state and city officials is set to take up the question Thursday.

The latest proposal to delay is a compromise forged by the AMATS Technical Committee, which voted unanimously last week to recommend delaying construction on the project until after 2018, instead of the presently targeted 2011. The project also would add a rail link as well as bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

If the Assembly votes, it would be advisory only. The final decision is up to the AMATS Policy Committee, a group composed of two state officials, two Assembly members and, until July 1, acting Anchorage Mayor Matt Claman. The new mayor, bridge supporter Dan Sullivan, will take the seat then.

Officials with the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority -- the agency created by the Legislature in 2003 to advocate for and oversee the project -- say the process of killing the bridge has been rushed through without a public review.

One policy committee member, Gordon Keith, said the compromise suggested by the technical experts at least would keep the project alive. Keith is a strong project supporter.

Keith, as well as Mayor-elect Sullivan, said they like the idea of adding the train track to the project but Keith said that would also make it more expensive.

"This probably makes some sense," Sullivan said, adding that the railroad's interest helped make the compromise possible.

"It allows time for possible redesign of the bridge. In fact, there's thought now of making it a railroad bridge only for the first phase," he said.

The prospect of deleting the project came about after city elections in 2008, which produced a new balance of power on both the Assembly and the policy committee.

Assemblywoman Sheila Selkregg, who also serves on the policy committee, said Monday she still thinks the bridge is a bad idea that will siphon years of federal highway construction money from more important road projects.

The two other city members on the policy committee -- Claman and Assemblyman Patrick Flynn -- were warmer to the compromise.

"I want to look at it some more," Claman said, "but ... I view the compromise favorably."

Flynn said he will probably vote for pushing the project back rather than killing it outright.
 

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Knik bridge delay put on hold by judge
Mat-Su mayors want it put back in city transportation plans

16 July 2009
Anchorage Daily News

A state judge has temporarily blocked a decision to delay the Knik Arm bridge project until at least 2018.

Judge Sen Tan issued the preliminary injunction at a hearing this morning. It will remain in effect until another court hearing on Aug. 18.

Attorneys representing the joint state-city transportation committee that voted last month to delay the project said there was no need for an injunction because nothing would have happened in the next month anyway. The decision can't be implemented until an air quality study is updated, they said.

Tan's order makes sure nothing gets implemented.

The order comes in a lawsuit filed by the cities of Houston and Wasilla against the AMATS Policy Committee, a joint state-city committee that decided June 25 to move the bridge project to a longer term part of Anchorage's transportation plan. That was a compromise from an earlier proposal to eliminate the bridge from the transportation plan entirely.

The mayors of the two Mat-Su communities want the bridge to be built and want the project to stay where it was in the transportation plan's timeline.

They argue that the compromise, which also added a heavy rail line and pedestrian and bicycle facilities to the bridge, was a major change that should have set off another round of public hearings and review.

The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, the state agency created to push the project, has joined the suit on the side of the cities.

SHIFTING LINEUP

The already complicated case is getting even more tangled. The AMATS decision was made a few days before Mayor Dan Sullivan was sworn into office July 1.

Sullivan, who is part of the five-member AMATS committee, supports the bridge. He has a different position than former acting Mayor Matt Claman and Assembly members Sheila Selkregg and Patrick Flynn, who voted to delay the project.

Assistant Municipal Attorney Robert Owens, who represents the city members on the AMATS committee, said the new mayor doesn't object to giving additional public notice and allowing more comment on the question of whether the project should be pushed back.

The Assembly members on the committee do object to that idea, and want the decision to stand as it is.

Owens said he can't represent two conflicting positions. So the city will be hiring a private attorney to represent Claman, Selkregg and Flynn before the next hearing date, he said.

State attorneys are representing people on both sides. One assistant attorney general, Jeff Stark, is representing the state members of the AMATS committee, and another, James Cantor, is representing the toll authority.

Owens stepped on some toes in the course of arguing his side when he referred to Houston and Wasilla as "two far-flung communities" wanting to interfere in Anchorage's transportation plan.

"We're the other side of this bridge, where 76 percent of it will be built," said Richard Payne, the lawyer representing the Mat-Su towns. "That's somewhat insulting."

After the hearing, Houston Mayor Roger Purcell and Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright said the Knik Arm crossing proposal is important to their cities.

From the Anchorage end, the project may look like a bridge to nowhere, they said. From their side, it looks like a bridge to the state's largest city.
 
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