The End of the Bridge to Nowhere

By Lindsey Ellerson

Sep 21, 2007 1:43pm

ABC News’ John Cochran reports: The Bridge to Nowhere is gone.  Not the victim of aging frames, bolts and joints.  No, this bridge has collapsed, even before it was built, after an onslaught of angry editorials, furious anti-pork citizens groups, and caustic jokes on late night TV.

First, that name.   It was not accurate.   If built, the bridge would have gone somewhere.   It would have replaced the ferry that takes residents of Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,000) to the local airport on Gravina Island.  In 2005, Congress approved $223 million for construction.

In Washington, groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense and Citizens Against Government Waste, rallied their troops to try to block the money.   They said the island was home to far more deer than people (50). 

The bridge’s main sponsor in the Senate, Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, was outraged by any attempt to prevent his state from getting federal funds.  In 2004, with the help of Stevens, his state got special projects worth $645 million.  That was $984 for every Alaskan.   By contrast, Congress handed out less than $3 to every Texan.  And a Texan was, and still is, the President. 

But the barrage of publicity was too much for his fellow Republicans.  Senator John McCain, R.-Ariz., cited the Bridge to Nowhere as a perfect example of wasteful spending.  Senator Tom Coburn R-Okla., a longtime foe of pork spending, tried to shift the money to rebuild an interstate highway damaged by Hurricane Katrina. 

Senator Stevens grew even more outraged: "I don’t kid people.  If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state…I will resign."  He did not resign.

An uneasy compromise was reached.  Congress took away the money for the Gravina Island bridge and another Alaskan bridge which was almost as controversial.  Instead, Congress gave the money to the state with the understanding that it was not required to use the funds specifically for bridges.

Friday, the state of Alaska officially sank the Bridge to Nowhere.  Governor Sarah Palin, also a Republican, said "Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport."  "But," she said, the bridge "is not the answer."  Palin has told state transportation officials to look for the most "fiscally responsible" alternative.

A spokesman for Senator Stevens was not immediately available for comment.

                                                                                                               

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