Monday 7 October 2013

Well that Bridge Went Nowhere

The Google A marks the runway of Ketchikan International Airport in South-East Alaska.  Students of topography will note that the city of Ketchican (the grey sprawl to the East of the Tongass Narrows) has taken up all the flat land near to the shore.  So when the town needed an Airport, the only obvious and convenient place was on the flattish shore to the West on Gravina Island - and it was so.  It's a bit of a run to call it "International" because of the 100,000 enplanements of recent years 99% are to/from US destinations with Seattle (61K), Juneau (16K) and Anchorage (13K) accounting for nearly all the traffic.  But then it's a bit of a run to call Ketchikan a city because only 8000 people live there, making it a port about the same size as New Ross or Youghal in Ireland.  The fact that this makes it the 5th most populous place in Alaska only emphasizes how few people want to live in the USA's biggest state.

The airport was opened in 1973; construction costs were about $15 million: half from the Feds, $4m from the State and the rest from the Borough.  There's a handy ferry that shuttles back and forth across the 800m gut in 7 minutes with departures every half hour.  It costs $5, delivers you to Departures and you can go back for free on the same ticket if it's the same day. Could you imagine anything more convenient or romantic?  I love ferries. I would happily spend all day going back and forth on the Passage East ferry 50km South of here.  It only costs €2 return and if you sit into the back of someone's car when they drive on (ask first!) you travel for free.

In 2005 President George W Boondoggle signed into law the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act" with about $300 billion (cof!) allocated to upgrading US transport infrastructure.  Buried in there was an allocation of 0.1% of the total to build a bridge between Ketchikan and its Airport.  The cost was budgeted for $223 million but everyone knew there would be over-runs of the pork-barrel. In short order, the bridge-to-nowhere project was shuffled off stage to die quietly after ridicule from some math-enabled commentators from the lower 48 states. Back-of-an-envelope calculations show that every man, woman and Tlingit totem-pole was going to get their transportation costs subsidized to the tune of $30,000 a head.  You could go on the ferry twice a week for as long as you live for that. 

1 comment:

  1. dangerous ground comparing the size or scale of an airport, port, ferry etc. I was relating the story of the building of the Barrow viaduct last night at a local story telling event. The project was a long drawn out one to link Rosslare to Waterford and I explained at one time a railway co was established called the Waterford and Passage East Railway Co (W&PR) to promote a route that would either use the then existing ferry boat, or more grandly a bridge, to travel via Passage East and Ballyhack. apparently part of the thinking was the objections of the Port of New Ross to any bridge across the Barrow which would impact traffic. Anyway, after years of wranglings the location of the Barrow viaduct was settled once the provision of a pivot opening to allow ships access the port was included...It opened in 1906, I mentioned the current status of New Ross last night in a passing way...which created a little difficulty for me in that an attendee had a lot of gra for the port and town and took umberage...ouch