Assembly votes again to delay Knik Arm bridge

Rosemary Shinohara

The Anchorage Assembly for the second time voted Tuesday night in favor of delaying the proposed $680 million Knik Arm bridge construction until 2018 or later. The vote was 6-5.

That action came despite a strong push from top state officials to keep the bridge in Anchorage's short-term transportation plan, which would allow construction to begin earlier. Deputy state Department of Transportation commissioner Frank Richards wrote a letter to the Assembly and Mayor Dan Sullivan in mid-February reiterating the state's support for keeping it in the short-term plan. Richards called the controversial bridge "a major project with statewide significance."

Assembly chairman Patrick Flynn proposed the delay. His resolution says changes in the financial market "challenge the viability" of a public and private partnership that is envisioned to pay for construction. The resolution also says that recent listing of the beluga whale as an endangered species might prompt the need for design changes in the bridge that could greatly affect the cost.

Flynn's resolution won support from Matt Claman, Sheila Selkregg, Harriet Drummond, Mike Gutierrez and Elvi Gray Jackson.

The Assembly's recommendation is advisory to the AMATS Policy Committee, the final decision-maker, which has a meeting scheduled March 25. The policy committee oversees spending of federal transportation money in Anchorage, and is composed of two Assembly members, Mayor Dan Sullivan and two state officials.

Sullivan said midway through the testimony Tuesday night that at this point he favors keeping the bridge in Anchorage's short-term plan.

If it can truly be financed by tolls to be charged drivers, "That seems like a win-win." If the state sells revenue bonds to back up the project, that's OK if they're paid back by tolls, Sullivan said.

"No one's given me a compelling reason to move it out of the short-term plan," he said.

A delay until 2018 would hurt the federal permitting process, Michael Foster, chairman of the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, told the Assembly.