13,828 Jobs at Point MacKenzie in 2035? Release of Traffic Analysis Zone Data Raises More Questions on KABATA’s Revenue Projections

February 9th, 2012

After repeated requests by citizens and the local planning authority, Anchorage Metropolitan Transportation Solutions (AMATS), the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) released the traffic analysis zone (TAZ) data it used in making toll revenue projections for its Financial Plan. This map of Mat-Su and Anchorage shows the population and employment data KABATA consultant Wilbur Smith and Associates used to generate their forecast of the tolls necessary to pay off Knik Arm Bridge bonds and other costs. By clicking on various traffic analysis zones (hat tip to Doug Tosa of Alaska Center for the Environment for putting the KABATA data to each TAZ zone in this easy to use format), users can see the amount of growth KABATA believes will occur in each neighborhood.

Clicking on the area around Point MacKenzie (TAZ zones # 136 and # 593, i.e., immediately adjacent to the proposed Knik Arm Bridge), shows that KABATA projects 13,828 people to work there in 2035 compared to 55 today (see the State of Alaska’s Department of Commerce site for additional Point MacKenzie information).

How reasonable is the number of 13,828 jobs at Point MacKenzie in 2035? That number is:

  • 1,041 jobs less than the 14,869 jobs than the US Census counted in 2009 as non-farm employment in the entire Mat-Su Borough
  • 673 jobs more than the 13,155 jobs the US Census counted in the Kenai Peninsula Borough in 2009
  • 3,028 jobs more than the 10,800 jobs the US Census counted in the City and Borough of Juneau in 2009
  • Over half the 26,479 jobs counted by the US Census in the Fairbanks North Star Borough in 2009
  • 4,627 fewer jobs than the 18,455 jobs counted in downtown Anchorage (i.e., not the entire city) when the Municipality of Anchorage was last surveyed in 2002

KABATA’s Financial Plan counts on car drivers paying a $7.99 one way toll and a $28.78 commercial vehicle toll in 2035.

The 2010 Census counted 88,995 people living in the Mat-Su Borough. In 2007, Insight Research Corporation of Dallas, Texas projected that 250,700 people will live in the Borough in 2030, the equivalent of adding Palmer, the Borough’s second largest city, to the Borough every year for 20 years. Because of changing economic conditions, citizens and AMATS, the State/Muni transportation planning organization, then asked KABATA to revise the Mat-Su population projection. KABATA’s traffic and toll consultant, Wilbur Smith and Associates, reduced their Mat-Su Borough population in 2035 to approximately 200,000. In contrast, Scott Goldsmith of UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) projected about 160,000 people living in the Borough in 2035, a number that was used as the basis for the draft 2035 Anchorage Metropolitan Transportation Plan.

Interestingly, a 2007 study done for KABATA by Insight Research showed (p. A-7) only 6740 jobs in TAZ zones 136 and 593 at Point MacKenzie twenty years after the bridge was scheduled to open in 2010. That is slightly less than half the 2011 estimate KABATA projected for 2035, 19 years after the Bridge is projected to open in 2016.

So what changed between 2007 and 2011 that made the KABATA consultants double the estimated jobs at Point MacKenzie 19-20 years after the Bridge opened? With Wilbur Smith having to reduce the population forecast from 250,700 in 2030 to around 200,000 in 2035, the only way KABATA’s consultant could still project enough traffic and tolls to pay off Bridge costs is by adding “2-way” traffic, with significant traffic leaving Anchorage to go to work at Point MacKenzie.

Observing KABATA consultants change population numbers and jobs numbers by such a large amount, a skeptic might consider the 13,828 jobs at Point MacKenzie in 2035 as less an objective forecast from an independent source than a predetermined number from a firm willing to serve a client that needed to show the necessary traffic and toll revenue to pay off Bridge costs.

An independent financial estimate assuming lower population and employment numbers projects an annual $55 million/year in bridge deficits from the projected year the bridge opens to 2035, see the Real Finances paper. A $55 million annual deficit is more than the approximately $30 million a year in total state and federal funds that Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough have each averaged during the last ten years for all transportation projects.