Our view: Gravina road

Audit highlights waste of money on Gov. Murkowski's project

January 20, 2010 

A new legislative audit delivers a scathing indictment of how then-Gov. Frank Murkowski pushed construction of an unneeded road on Gravina Island, across from Ketchikan.

The Gravina Island highway work was part of Ketchikan's controversial $397 million "Bridge to Nowhere." Located across the water from Ketchikan, a combined city-borough with 13,000 people, the road was intended to connect the bridge with the community's airport. Without the unrealistically expensive bridge, though, there was no reason to build the road.

At the time Gravina road construction began, the audit pointed out the bridge was in big trouble, due to "the lack of congressional financial support" and "the significant increase in estimated cost." Given those circumstances, the audit said, "The decision to proceed with the highway construction in May 2007 was not in the public's best interest."

The audit confirms what was obvious at the time -- Gov. Murkowski rushed to get work on the dubious road started before he left office, so it couldn't be stopped by his successor.

"DOTPF (the state transportation department) was directed by Governor Murkowski's administration to accelerate the process to award and sign the contract for construction of the highway," the audit found. "As a result, state and federal laws and regulations were not followed."

Among the shortcuts the Murkowski administration took, according to the audit: Not all potential bidders were provided the same information. The state never got required federal permission to shorten the bid response time. And the state gave no legally sufficient reason for cutting the normal bid response period by more than half.

"The main reason for accelerating the highway construction procurement," the audit found, "was to ensure the contract award was signed before the governor left office."

It was a classic political maneuver: Build as much of a controversial project as possible, as fast as possible. That way project supporters can tell critics, "We can't stop now -- look how much money we've already spent on it."

Ketchikan was and is definitely struggling with a wounded economy and shrinking population. But it was unrealistic to expect the feds or the state would spend $400 million on a bridge for a place with 13,000 residents.

Just for construction -- leave out money spent on studies and planning -- this road to nowhere cost $28 million. That makes it one of the bigger spending debacles in a state that has no shortage of ways politicians have wasted money on dubious projects.

BOTTOM LINE: Here's $28 million that went down the drain.

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