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Knik Arm Crossing rolls out new studies, hopes for financing

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 8, 2014

With a new plan to secure public financing instead of private, the Knik Arm Crossing project is refreshing its data set and presented new studies Monday that followed up on similar studies conducted in past years.

What it came away with was more up-to-date information on projected population and job growth, as well as updated revenue forecasts if a bridge from Anchorage to Point MacKenzie is constructed -- or not.

None of the new studies offered any major surprises compared to any of the past studies, according to Knik Arm Crossing director Judy Dougherty. She said the socioeconomic review and forecast, created independently by the firms Cardno Inc. and Agnew::Beck, will be used in hopes of securing a $300 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan to go toward construction of the project. Dougherty said the TIFIA loan would represent the first part of a three-pronged financing plan.

Citizens packed an Anchorage City Hall conference room to hear the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions technical advisory and policy committee provide an update on the bridge project. Dougherty said current cost estimates for the project, which would span 1 3/4 miles across Knik Arm, are around $900 million. Those estimates have shifted over the years, including a 2009 study from the Federal Highway Administration that put the cost for the project around $1.5 billion.

Years of studies have caused concern among the community over mounting costs. The price of the two new studies was about $1 million, according to Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesperson Shannon McCarthy.

AMATS policy committee chair and DOT regional director Rob Campbell reminded attendees at the Monday meeting that the data presented was only informational, with no conclusion or policy direction being set.

"There's no reason to get emotional or wound up," he said. "It's just some traffic numbers."

Instead, most people praised the presenters for succinctly explaining the new information.

The numbers -- in terms of population, job growth and potential revenue -- don't differ dramatically regardless of whether or not the bridge gets built.

For example, the population in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna metropolitan areas is projected to grow by 1.42 percent annually between 2015 and 2035, according to the study. If a bridge is built, that estimate goes up slightly, to 1.45 percent. Upticks were also seen in both employment and household growth, which study project manager Bill Reid called "modest."

Hugh Miller, who presented the CDM Smith traffic and toll revenue study, said the new toll revenue estimates are lower than a 2011 study forecasting toll revenue. That's based on a number of factors, including improved modeling, revised data forecasting and a three-year delay in bridge completion.

The study notes that about $6.8 million in toll revenue is projected for 2019, the first year the bridge could be open, increasing to $10.4 million in 2020. The revenue is expected to "ramp up" over time, with the study showing gross total revenue increasing to $99 million in 2035 and $167 million in 2045.

Dougherty said she expects the agencies they apply to for financing to review the studies carefully.

"When it's presented to other agencies, it will get its own haircut," she said. "We're asking for a lot of money and it will be scrutinized very closely."