Transportation committee passes resolution skeptical of Knik Arm bridge

The state-city planning organization that oversees major road and transportation projects for Anchorage unanimously passed a resolution Thursday that expressed doubt about the future of the Knik Arm bridge project.

The Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions policy committee said in the resolution, introduced by Anchorage Assembly member Patrick Flynn, that it has "serious reservations about the viability and need" for the bridge project. The policy committee consists of Flynn, who represents downtown Anchorage; Assembly member Tim Steele of West Anchorage; Robert Campbell, regional state transportation director; Denise Koch, director of air quality for the state Department of Environmental Conservation; and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who has been an outspoken critic of the Knik Arm crossing.

The committee did not take action Thursday to delete or lower the priority of the Knik Arm project in the area's interim update to its long-range transportation plan, as some people had asked for during an open house Tuesday night. Committee staffers said they were concerned about missing federal deadlines if significant changes were made to the interim plan, which was described as a stopgap measure to prevent a federal funding freeze for road projects at the end of the year.

Thursday's resolution reflected the timing concern, saying the AMATS policy committee "understands the need to approve an interim Metropolitan Transportation Plan in a timely manner without adding or deleting any projects." But it went on to state that committee members express "their reservations regarding the need, impact and cost of the Knik Arm Crossing project."

The committee concluded by saying the project should be revisited as part of the update for the 2040 long-range transportation plan, a process set to start in mid-2016.

Flynn said in an interview Thursday evening he decided to introduce the resolution based on testimony at Tuesday's open house.

"We were acknowledging the fact that we really need to continue rushing through the interim (long-range transportation plan) process, so we can get to the next one … but obviously there's significant community concern about that specific project, and also budgetary concerns," Flynn said.

Craig Lyon, AMATS coordinator and Anchorage transportation planning manager, said it was "noteworthy" that the vote was unanimous.

In 2009, the policy committee voted unanimously to move the Knik Arm Crossing from the short-term list of projects to the long-term. But the mayors of Wasilla and Houston sued over the change of status, leading to a settlement that put the proposed bridge back into the more active short-term section of the plan.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.