On Tuesday, the Alaska Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on the proposed Knik Arm Crossing. Last week, Senators heard the details of a new plan to finance the project. Current estimates place the cost of a two-lane bridge between Point Mackenzie and Government hill in Anchorage at $895 million. The new plan does not call for the construction cost to eventually be paid back completely by loans, a plan that many critics viewed as unachievable. The new plan involves state revenue bonds and federal highway funds to lessen the amount that the state would have to repay if toll revenues fell short.
Tuesday’s arguments centered around many of the themes that have defined the discussion since the project began. Supporters, including the mayors of the Mat-Su Borough and Anchorage, say that the bridge would provide more convenient link between Alaska’s largest city and its fastest-growing borough. With a new school being built and population expanding westward from Wasilla, they say a bridge would mean easier movement of goods alongside the Point Mackenzie rail spur as well as shorter commutes to Anchorage.
Opponents of the bridge criticize the cost to the state. Some say that, even under the new, less-expensive plan, total cost to the state could reach more than $450 million dollars. There is also a great deal of uncertainty regarding exactly how much toll revenue would be generated. The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority’s traffic data was the subject of a legislative audit last year. The audit showed that the estimates were too optimistic. KABATA has since begun updating the data, but it is not yet available to legislators.
The Senate Finance Committee did not take a vote to advance the bill to the entire Senate on Tuesday.