The Bridge to Nowhere

I took this photograph from my bus window as we passed the the airport serving Ketchican, Alaska, which is across a narrow bay. This is where the proposed "Bridge to Nowhere" would have been built to replace the ferry that takes people to and from the airport, which is on a separate island. Sorry for the poor quality, but what can you do, the bus driver is not going to stop! Plus it was raining. Click on the photograph to get a better look.

This summer, I finally visited Alaska, a state I’ve wanted to visit since my aunt lived there many decades ago. What took me so long? It’s incredibly beautiful! While in Alaska, my husband and I toured part of lovely Revillagigedo Island, which is the 12th largest island in the United States and about the same size as the state of Rhode Island. Revilla, as its known by the locals, is known more for its city of Ketchican, Alaska’s fifth most populous city at 7,368 according to the 2010 census. The island population is 13,950. The temporary population swells enormously in the summer with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The entire state of Alaska has only 710,231 people.

A sculpture featuring the various professions and residents of Ketchican, Alaska, greets people on the dock. Tourism and fishing are two of the main industries in the Ketchican area. The logging business was shut down during the Clinton Administration.

As we were ending our tour by bus, our bus driver casually pointed to the airport that serves the island. The airport is on nearby Gravina Island, because there isn’t enough flat land on Revilla. “That’s where the bridge to nowhere was to be built,” he said. Now, airline passengers take a ferry, which costs $5. But, the bus driver noted — the parking lot for the ferry is free! The bridge would have eliminated the need for the ferry. I don’t know whether it would have been a toll-free bridge, not that the fees could have come close to paying for the bridge.

Funding for the ulra-expensive bridge was to come from the federal government, which has already funded the road leading to the as-yet-unbuilt bridge. As our country battles over who should pay for what and how many more trillions we should borrow to pay current obligations, saddling our children and their progeny with huge debt, this bridge has been used as a symbol of federal largesse. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a big advocate of federal funding this bridge. Why not grab some of the federal money? It’s not real money is it? It’s thrown around like confetti. I’m glad there’s a movement to stop the unsustainable federal spending party, although it’s not making much headway because we have real and important obligations to pay for. Who gets cut? Even this Bridge to Nowhere is not really a bridge to nowhere, but is there money to fund such efforts that benefit a relative few?

Another view of the Ketchican Airport from my bus window. The Bridge to Nowhere would have been built here.

Almost all federal money comes from taxing the people in the states. The federal government takes a cut in the form of bureaucracy and upkeep (and many would say massive waste and fraud) and then returns some of the money to the states. Much of this federal funding is the so-called pork. Democrat Senator Robert Byrd was known for his ability to bring home the federal bacon to his state of West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states.

Here are a few of the totem poles in Totem Bight State Historical Park, a 33-acre state park north of Ketchikan, Alaska. In 1938, the United States Forest Service used Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Native Alaskans to repair or duplicate totem poles that were abandoned when the natives moved to communities where work was available. The CCC project put the community house and 15 totem poles in place. At statehood in 1959, title to the land passed from the federal government to the State of Alaska. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 27, 1970.

From Wikipedia: Byrd was called the “King of Pork” by Citizens Against Government Waste. After becoming chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1989, Byrd set a goal securing a total of $1 billion for public works in the state. He passed that mark in 1991, and funds for highways, dams, educational institutions and federal agency offices flowed unabated over the course of his membership. More than 30 existing or pending federal projects bear his name. He commented on his reputation for attaining funds for projects in West Virginia in August 2006, when he called himself “Big Daddy” at the dedication for the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center. Examples of this ability to claim funds and projects for his state include the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s repository for computerized fingerprint records as well as several United States Coast Guard computing and office facilities.

Some states don’t get back as much as they send in, and feel cheated. Other states like West Virginia fatten up. We could spill lots of digital ink discussing the fairness of this system. Why should the rest of the country pay for the bridge to Gravina so that a relatively small number of people wouldn’t have to take a ferry but could drive over a bridge that was said would be as long as the Golden Gate Bridge? Another federally funded project in Alaska in the 1930s was restoring and replicating totem poles, which can be seen in Totem Bight Park. In this case, the federal funding saved the totem poles that were sure to be lost with no other funding in sight.

Ketchican, Alaska, is the Salmon Capital of the World.

From Wikipedia: According to USA Today, the bridge was to have been nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge would cross the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska’s Inside Passage, so the bridge was designed to be tall enough to accommodate ship traffic, including the Alaska Marine Highway and the cruise ships which frequent Alaskan waters during the summer.
Ketchikan’s airport is the second largest in Southeast Alaska, after Juneau International Airport, handles over 200,000 passengers a year, while the ferry shuttled 350,000 people in the same time period (as of December 2006).In comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge carried more than 43,000,000 vehicles in 2006, or about 118,000 vehicles each day.

End of lecture! Now for some more facts about Ketchican:

Ketchican is the Rain Capital of Alaska. In 1949, the city experienced a record rainfall of 202.55 inches.

— Ketchikan’s secondary post office zip code, 99950, is the highest ZIP code ever assigned in the United States.

—  Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.

—  Ketchican is known as the Salmon Capital of the World.

— Ketchican is the Rain Capital of Alaska.

About Ketchican, Alaska.

About the “Bridge to Nowhere”

Bald Eagles Postcard postcard
Bald Eagles in Totem Bight Park near Ketchican, Alaska.


Filed under Birds, Nature, Travel

4 responses to “The Bridge to Nowhere

  1. Cathy,

    Your post brings back memories of my trip to Alaska on a cruise ship two years ago. We reached Ketchikan after two days’ sailing from Vancouver. Thanks for all the info you’ve included here in your post. May I add a couple more tidbits: Ketchikan is also called the salmon capital of the world. Also there is the Tongass Rain Forest, the largest national forest in the US. The Inside Passage is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. The ship turned off its engine and we just glided through there slowly, catching the sunset. Politics aside, this is one of the most serene places of the world in my mind.


  2. My feeling is that people live in Alaska because they’re not in a hurry to go anywhere, so a ferry should do just fine! My niece and her husband, who live in Anchorage, recently visited. They told us there are people living in the heart of Anchorage who pride themselves in NOT having electricity or in-door plumbing. Who knew?

    In my neck of the woods, one of the biggest proposed boondoggles is the completion of the 710 Freeway. My community has fought it since 1963, yet there are still those who support it. Now that California is in the toilet (the indoor kind), Caltrans doesn’t have the funds and hoped for federal funds. The “missing link” of the freeway is less than two miles and if completed, it would be the most expensive stretch of freeway in history. Not to gloat, but it ain’t gonna happen.

    In the meantime, where’s the pork for education? I’ve just come from Target where I spent my own money to buy writing journals for my students. It was hard enough when I had 20 students, but with 28+,,, Oh, don’t even get me going!


  3. But wait! Sarah Palin was an “original maverick,” was she not? And “she stopped the bridge to nowhere,” or so says a political ad by John McCain.

    Of course, long before political winds shifted and she flipped flopped, she was for the bridge before she was against it. While running for governor of Alaska she said the time to build the bridge was “now–while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.”

    When window of opportunity closed on the bridge, she still grabbed $200 million in federal funds earmarked for the bridge and used the funds for other transportation projects. That’s not quite exactly like saying “Thanks but no thanks” to Washington, eh?

    I loved the photographs and your descriptions. As I often do after reading one of your posts I feel like I took a vacation without leaving my house!


    • Here’s a Train To Nowhere that is included in Obama’s “Stimulus” Boondoggle. For waste in government, Obama and crew take the prize!
      A high-speed derailment in California
      Why the state’s proposed new rail system is little more than a foolish boondoggle

      I’m reading a great book that I highly recommend to everyone called “Reckless Endangerment. How outsized ambition, greed, and corruption led to the economic armageddon.”

      The New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist reveals how the financial meltdown emerged from the toxic interplay of Washington, Wall Street, and corrupt mortgage lenders.

      In Reckless Endangerment, Gretchen Morgenson, the star business columnist of The New York Times, exposes how the watchdogs who were supposed to protect the country from financial harm were actually complicit in the actions that finally blew up the American economy.

      Drawing on previously untapped sources and building on original research from coauthor Joshua Rosner—who himself raised early warnings with the public and investors, and kept detailed records—Morgenson connects the dots that led to this fiasco.

      Morgenson and Rosner draw back the curtain on Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance giant that grew, with the support of the Clinton administration, through the 1990s, becoming a major opponent of government oversight even as it was benefiting from public subsidies. They expose the role played not only by Fannie Mae executives but also by enablers at Countrywide Financial, Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, HUD, Congress, the FDIC, and the biggest players on Wall Street, to show how greed, aggression, and fear led countless officials to ignore warning signs of an imminent disaster.

      Character-rich and definitive in its analysis, this is the one account of the financial crisis you must read


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