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Knik Arm bridge awaits funding

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By Tim Bradner

Alaska Journal of Commerce

The new Knik Arm Bridge & Toll Authority is anxiously awaiting the outcome of federal budget negotiations in Congress to see if $5 million to $6 million for environmental and conceptual engineering studies will be appropriated.

Congress returned to work in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20, and an immediate priority was consideration of the pending federal budget bill.

Money for actual construction of the crossing would come later this year in a separate federal bill, the reauthorization of the six-year federal surface transportation program, according to George Wuerch, the chairman of the authority's board. Wuerch, a former Anchorage mayor, briefed the Resource Development Council in Anchorage Jan. 15 on the project's status.

There are different versions of the federal transportation bill pending in Congress, and Wuerch told the RDC he hopes to see action in congressional committees in February.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he is working to get a $400 million special appropriation for the Knik Arm crossing in the surface transportation bill.

Wuerch told the RDC that cost estimates for the crossing range from $400 million to $800 million, and that a firm estimate can't be made until engineering and environmental studies are funded and completed.

A toll would paid by vehicles making the crossing, and if construction costs can be covered with federal funds the toll would be quite reasonable, and would be used to fund only operations and maintenance, Wuerch said.

Young, however, said in an interview that if he project costs exceed $400 million he may be able to get only part of the construction paid with federal funds, and the authority may have to find other ways to pay for remaining capital costs.

The latest plan for the crossing is an earth-filled causeway for part of the distance from the north and south shores with a bridge in the middle where water depths are deepest, around 50 feet to 60 feet.

Elevation of the bridge will be fairly low, perhaps 30 feet off the water surface, Wuerch told the RDC. The crossing will be north of the Port of Anchorage and the Point McKenzie bulk-loading dock, so vessel traffic will be minimal, he said.

The bluff on the Anchorage side is 100 feet to 150 feet high, so the highway approach and the bridge are below the bluff, a request made by officials at Elmendorf Air Force Base, which is adjacent to the site, Wuerch said. The alignment of the bridge is also different than the Elmendorf runways, so that the bridge lights won't confuse aircraft crews, he said.

Wuerch told the RDC he expects construction to take three years and engineering and design work one year, but an estimate for the time for permitting can't be made now.

"We do not have a design yet, but only a concept of how this can be built," he said.

But the project is not complicated. "This is not rocket science," Wuerch said. The concept is similar to that used for causeways connected with bridge spans in the Florida Keys and elsewhere. In fact, the first study of the idea of a Knik Arm crossing, in 1955 by Ivan Block & Associates of Portland, Ore., referred to a Nova Scotia project of similar size, currents and ice conditions that were then under construction, Wuerch said. The Nova Scotia project was completed and is in use today, he said.

In 1955 Ivan Block estimated costs of the crossing at $35 million, Wuerch said. In 1972, the next serious look at the project was a study by the firm of Howard, Needles, Tamment and Bergendorf of Kansas City, sponsored by the state Department of Highways, now the Department of Transporation & Pubolic Facilities. It recommended a 12,000-foot bridge and carried a price tag of $126 million.

In 1984, the state transportation department commissioned a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The draft EIS was completed, and estimated the cost would be $547 million. Wuerch said that estimate included substantial new construction of access corridors in both Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, however. "A big percentage of that cost is in the access roads," he said.

The latest estimates by the department, in 2003, estimated costs for the crossing itself at $400 million, and a top price of $800 million if the access roads are included. The big differences between the estimates made in 1984 and 2003 is that the project will now be able to take advantage of roads on both sides that didn't exist before, Wuerch said.

Another accomplishment in 2003 was obtaining soils data from 17 bore holes drilled in Knik Arm as a part of the soils test program for the Port of Anchorage expansion.

Results from the soils test were positive, Wuerch said. The information is needed to assess the seismic hazards for both the port expansion and the crossing, he said.

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Despite disagreement over federal transportation funding, U.S. Rep. Don Young hopes a bridge across Knik Arm makes this view of downtown Anchorage from Port MacKenzie more familiar to Anchorage residents. (Photo by Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)

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sounds nice.  Isnt there suppose to be a tower proposed in Anch. thats suppose to be the new tallest in AK?

there was. On skyscrapers.com, they listed a proposed 25 story building.. but ive never seen any developments on it on the website, nor could i find any evidence of it when searching myself.

Basically there is no evidence of this building to be built especially since the leader in contracting highrises in AK (J&D Properties) does not have any proposal like this on its website.

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i dunno about the funding.. the whole thing is quite a mess for me to keep track of.

as for renderings.. Slim and I have seen the same rendering over and over again on tv, newspapers, etc etc, but never on the internet :P

sorry, ill scan one as soon as i find one.

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