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Defending properties in KABATA's crosshairs from spokesperson's attack

Thomas Pease
OPINION: Apparently the spokesperson for the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority is now speaking for the Alaska Department of Transportation, and it's too bad she misrepresented reality in recent statements about the half-baked project. Pictured: One of the Government Hill homes slated for demolition to make way for the proposed Knik Arm Bridge. July 8, 2014 Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News

In a recent report (“DOT will level properties to make way for Knik Arm Bridge,” Wednesday), Shannon McCarthy, spokesperson for the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) and now, apparently, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation (DOT), misspoke.

The homes DOT plans to tear down are not dilapidated structures. Rather, they are two significant residences at the entrance to our neighborhood. The house at 441 E. Harvard is 4,034 square feet and has seven bedrooms, a balcony, a garage and the most prolific lilac bushes in Government Hill. In 2013, the Municipality valued this property at $402,800. The second home, at 828 Erickson Street, is 2,280 square feet, has four bedrooms and was remodeled in 2007. It has a garage and a greenhouse and was valued in 2013 at $297,300. This second gem contains wide-plank cherry hardwood floors.

Ms. McCarthy implies that these properties are uninhabitable nuisance properties, which is not true. Both of these homes can and have been rented as duplexes, with separate entrances to each unit. In fact, both homes were inhabited as recently as a year ago, when KABATA evicted the tenants.

Clearly, DOT would bulldoze these homes to advance the myth that the Knik Arm Bridge project is breaking ground. DOT, however, is no closer than KABATA was to building the bridge. After ten years and $70 million spent, KABATA/DOT have neither the funding nor the permits to build the bridge. In fact, they haven’t released a single, credible economic analysis of this project. KABATA promised to deliver its latest report to the Legislature last session, but still has not.

Five times, KABATA tried, and failed, to secure federal transportation (TIFIA) loans. Now, with DOT’s blessing, they will make a sixth attempt. Yet, it’s the same flawed bridge package presented in different wrapping paper. A bridge that lengthens travel time to Mat-Su and costs $5 to $10 to drive across has little support in Alaska and even less support at the federal level.

Additionally, the Knik Arm Bridge, if built, could siphon significant funding away from more vital transportation projects for years to come. A recent legislative audit revealed that toll revenues based on realistic traffic projections are unlikely to pay for the bridge, which will leave Alaskans to pay off up to $2.1 billion in bridge debt. For these reasons, the Federal Highways Administration likely will deny KABATA/DOT’s loan request a sixth time. The Knik Arm Bridge proposal remains the tenuous and ill-conceived project it was 10 years ago.

With federal funding unlikely, the Department of Transportation should not be allowed to degrade Anchorage’s oldest neighborhood unnecessarily. Let’s wait and see if KABATA/DOT, on its sixth try, can convince the Federal Highways Administration that the bridge is needed and will pay for itself before we tear down two cherished homes on Government Hill.

Thomas Pease was born in Anchorage and lives on Government Hill. He has closely followed the Knik Arm Bridge proposal since KABATA's establishment in 2003.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.