Our View: Funding makes bridge a non-starter

Federal funds won't be forthcoming. Neither Sen. Bert Stedman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, nor Gov. Sean Parnell is ready to pledge the state to $150 million up front and an open obligation in the future to guarantee money for the Knik Arm crossing.

Yet the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, or KABATA, and its state Senate champion, Linda Menard, keep talking as if this project is a sure thing.

The same old questions remain.

If the long-term toll and traffic projections are so good and so solid, why does the project depend on state guarantees? Menard and others have enthusiastically spoken about all the interest shown by major private outfits in the project. Sure they're interested, because if KABATA has its way, the state assumes all the risk.

As Sen. Stedman pointed out, you could get a private company to build just about anything with that kind of deal.

Stedman called the current proposal for state guarantees a "non-starter." That should tell the bridge authority something.

Backers have to make a better case for why the bridge is needed now, why its traffic and Mat-Su growth projections should be accepted and why the state must be on the hook if those projections don't pan out.

Scott Goldsmith, an economist with UAA's Institute for Social and Economic Research, has pointed out the disparity in household growth projections by Wilbur Smith Associates, ISER and the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. More telling, however, was his questioning last fall of Wilbur's conclusion that trips per household would double by 2035. Why would the number of trips per household double?

Gov. Parnell, generally a supporter of roads to resources, isn't sold on the request for money. He wants more public scrutiny. So do we. If the bridge were necessary now, with more than speculative demand on both sides, we'd say never mind the guarantees, let's just boost the capital budget or bond for it and build it.

Nobody has made that case yet.

BOTTOM LINE: Skepticism is right response to call for Knik Arm bridge money.