Knik Bridge Stuck in Slow Lane

The Knik Arm Crossing could be operational in about five to six years, according to backers of the project. But there’s a few stumbling blocks in the way. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, one of them rests with the state legislature, and bridge supporters may have to wait till next year to get the green light.

Anchorage’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon guests were given a briefing on the progress of the Knik Arm Bridge project by Michael Foster, who was appointed to the the Knik Arm Bridge and Transportation Authority (KABATA) board in 2009.

Foster has 20 years experience in engineering and design and heads his own company, Michael L. Foster and Associates.

“….when do we expect to start construction. Our anticipation is 2014, about two years from now. A second question is ‘how much time will it save me in commuting?’ My response is ‘ It’s not being built for today’s traffic, it is being built for tomorrow’s traffic. So if you live in Palmer or Wasilla, more likely it is you’ll still take the Glenn.”

But plans to move forward are hinging on the state Senate’s approval of HB 158, which creates a Knik Arm Crossing Fund which obligates the state to pay any private partner in the project toll revenue shortfalls in the initial years after bridge construction is complete. The bill passed the house in the last days of this year’s session.

Foster presented population figures indicating growth projections for the Matanuska Valley to 2035. 2010 census figures project a jump from 89 thousand to 190 thousand, although UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) figures indicated 80 thousand to 179 thousand.

“2035. Now, these are the real telling numbers. And, as I said earlier, the bridge is not being built for today’s traffic, although today’s traffic will use it. It is being built for the future. I believe in the future of the state and I believe in the future of Southcentral. You know, you can argue whether the Mat Su Borough is going to go to 160 thousand or 190 thousand. To me, that’s kind of noise. It shows there is significant growth in the Mat Su area, there’s significant growth in Southcentral area. ”

He said the Glenn Highway, which connects Anchorage and Wasilla and Palmer, is at carrying capacity today. Knik Bridge financing and construction is to be achieved through a partnership between the state and private investor.

“We expect it to take three or four years to build. It is a private partnership. So we expect it to be a three or four year construction window. The initial cost for the two lane deck is about 715 Million and we go to the four lane deck, it is about another 115 Million, so about an 830 Million dollar project.”

According to Foster, three private sector companies are on the shortlist for the bridge project: Cook Inlet Passage Partners, North Star Mobility Group, and Alaska Infrastructure Access Partners.

“What’s their risk? Their risk is financing it. They bring the finance to the table. The state of Alaska doesn’t finance it. They bring close to a billion dollars of finance to the table. A billion dollars that frees up a billion dollars of state money for other highway stuff. To me, it’s a no-brainer. ”

The state’s risk lies in toll revenues. If there’s no traffic on the bridge, the state loses money. But Foster says no bridge use is unlikely and projections for the state could be 4 point 8 billion dollars in revenues for the state in 35 years; more than 14 billion in sixty years.

Conversely, Jamie Kenworthy, who heads a group opposed to KABATA, says the numbers used by KABATA are inflated.

“There’s just so many unanswered questions. And they’ve done no stress analysis of what happens if the toll projection doesn’t show up. They’re asking the state to bear all that risk, and legislators in sober moments are leery of that. ”

Kenworthy says that’s why the Senate did not pass the reserve fund legislation this year

“There’s just incredible over – optimization of what the expected traffic and toll is. And it was basically a blank check, and that’s why the Senate chose not to act on the bill that would have given unlimited guarantee to any contract KABATA would sign with a consortium.”

Foster says, if the reserve fund does gain legislative approval the state could gain about 9 billion dollars over sixty years that could be used for transportation projects statewide. He says KABATA is in the draft procurement stage, including work on a draft Request For Proposals. Further progress rests on the Senate’s approval of the reserve fund legislation recently approved by the house. The legislation must be revisited next legislative session.



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APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone. Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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