New Developments on Knik Arm Bridge Project

August 17th, 2012

There have been a few developments that have not yet been covered since the legislature adjourned or mentioned yet in the Alaska media:

  • KABATA has been turned down for a fourth time on its preliminary application for a $300 million low cost federal TIFIA loan. But a new TIFIA round was announced July 27 by the US Department of Transportation Secretary LaHood. So, this week KABATA submitted a new fifth TIFIA letter of interest application asking for a federal $500 million loan since the new TIFIA guidelines now permit 49% fed financing up from a third. The KABATA application “assumes” that the next legislature will pass the legislation that did not make it through the Senate Finance Committee during the 2012 session to provide the project an additional $150 million and make the project “an obligation of the State” or in effect, provide a full unlimited state guarantee to cover the expected toll shortfall, see p. 16 of KABATA’s application.
  • KABATA agreed with the US Army Corps of Engineers in November, 2011 that the length of the Bridge should be 9200’, a 1000’ longer span than the length used in KABATA’s December, 2011 TIFIA application and financial projections given to the legislature in 2012. The Corps is responsible for permitting the project. KABATA has not yet revised earlier cost estimates that were based on a 8200’ Bridge. At 9200’ the proposed Knik Arm Bridge would be 219’ longer than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge with Knik Arm drivers paying twice the $5 round trip toll rate of a Golden Gate driver using an electronic pass.
  • In January, 2012 the US Corps of Engineers received comments from a number of state and federal agencies concerned that impact of a 9200’ Bridge with 230 acres of fill required on the causeways leading to the span would exacerbate the current siltation challenges in Knik Arm and the mortality rate of juvenile salmon and belugas in Knik Arm. Currently dredging Knik Arm is necessary to keep the Ports of Anchorage and McKenzie open to larger ships. The Corps of Engineers has not yet permitted the Bridge so if it does obtain a permit it is not clear for what length the Bridge span will be permitted for. Some agencies noted that a 14,400’span would avoid Knik Arm environmental impacts; click here for agency comments and click here for Kabata’s response.
  • The critical comments to the project by the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game can be contrasted with the response of KABATA, another state agency, to those comments. Previously the Alaska Department of Labor had estimated 160,693 people would live in the entire Mat-Su Borough in 2035. KABATA traffic and toll consultant Wilbur Smith, now CDM Smith, estimate for most of the Borough not including the Chicakaloon and Talkeetna area is 191,156 or 19% more. So the overall position of the Parnell administration on the project remains somewhat unclear. What is clear is that salmon runs in the Mat Su the last few years have fallen short of projections and effect of a constricted flow in Knik Arm on forcing juvenile salmon into deeper water could well further impact salmon runs in the Matanuska and Susitna drainages.
  • KABATA has now apparently acquired all necessary commercial and residential right of way property in Government Hill necessary for the project and is now identifying right of way property north of the Bridge site in the Mat-Su Borough. A KABATA contractor is now managing the once privately-owned Government Hill property. While KABATA defends the spending of $15 million for right of way as necessary to keep the project on schedule, there is little precedent for such large right of way costs being expended on a large controversial project that the legislature has twice refused to fund.

Finally, Government Hill Community Council President Bob French and south Anchorage financial analyst Jami Kenworthy have circulated answers to frequently asked questions about the status of the project; for the recent fact sheet click here.