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A TALE OF TWO BRIDGES

State Rep. Vic Kohring
Feb. 8, 2006

"Is the proposed Knik Arm bridge worth building? Definitely. Let's do it. Here is where a "limited government" ought to do what is right."
- Rep. Kohring

I clearly remember a grim 1955 Korean War Movie called "The Bridges of Toko-Ri" starring William Holden as a Navy fighter pilot and Mickey Rooney as the wise cracking helicopter jock who's always saving Holden's life. Flying old Grumman Panthers, Holden and his squadron must bomb the highly defended bridges at Toko-Ri in North Korea. After seeing one of his friends die in a ball of flames as his Panther is hit by enemy fire, Holden asks the admiral aboard ship, "Why must we do this? Is it worth all these fine men's lives? For a few bridges?"

The admiral explains that without the bridges the enemy cannot sustain the offensives that have been killing so many Americans. So that yes, a few lives lost at these bridges translates into many lives saved at the front. The bridges are most important.

Fast-forward to 2006. We debate building a bridge this time. My point is that just as the U.S. Navy was willing to spend precious lives and treasure to destroy bridges, we are now debating the worth of building a new one. Bridges are still most important! Fortunately this time, we are debating the cost and necessity of a bridge instead of how many men must die to destroy one.

Enter the proposed Knik Arm bridge. Why build it?

    1)  It would expand and make commerce easier, by taking a full hour off the Anchorage-Fairbanks run for trucks moving all manner of goods. That translates into a powerful cost cutting measure. It would mean that the things you buy and eat would cost less because of cheaper transport. The same benefit would be achieved with a side span bridge for railroad traffic.

    2)  The bridge would relieve pressure in the Anchorage home market that presently has only one direction to build...up. Across this potential bridge lay thousands of acres of land for homes, businesses and farms.

    3)  It would make a capital move to Point MacKenzie or Willow a much more practical endeavor.

    4)  The project would make the commute into or out of Anchorage to the Valley far easier and more convenient.

    5)  This exciting project would revolutionize Southcentral Alaska's economy by bringing new jobs and people into the Anchorage and Mat-Su areas.

    6)  It would provide an additional access to and from Anchorage if the other points of entry were blocked (i.e. terrorism or natural disasters).

    Is the bridge worth it? Absolutely.

    The naysayer's claim that the mud flats are too unstable and that the cost would be too much to overcome. But established engineering firms who have done preliminary studies such as PND Inc. Consulting Engineers, inform us that beneath the mud and water is bedrock. Moreover, bridges have been built in France, in China and Japan that span huge distances over salt water subject to storms and tides. The technical problems have long been solved so that structurally sound and safe bridges have been and are being built today.

    What of the cost? Like any major construction project, it would be expensive, but there are ways to defray this cost. First, those very tides that play at the bottom of the bridge could be used to move large impellers, which would create electricity. Sale of that power would offset the bridge cost and maintenance. Second, other great spans that link large cities across salt water (the Golden Gate for example), the Knik Arm bridge could be set up with a toll one way. Between electrical generation and tolls, the bridge would eventually pay for itself and then pay for its maintenance. This time the taxpayer would have it easy.

    Finally, I present the best reason to build a Knik Arm bridge: It would save lives. Remember the notorious reputation in the '70's and '80's of the old bridges along the Glenn Highway between Anchorage and the Valley across the Knik and Matanuska Rivers? In the winter these bridges frequently killed people who lost control on the ice and fog and crashed into the bridges or other cars, akin to William Holden and his fellow pilots in "The Bridges of Toko-Ri"—death by poor design instead of enemy fire.

    That ceased when the bridges were rebuilt in the early '90's. Now they are wider and well lit. I am unaware of a single death related to their dark, icy disorder since then.

    Is the proposed Knik Arm bridge worth building? Definitely. Let's do it. Here is where a "limited government" ought to do what is right.


Representative Kohring is a six-term House member, and serves the Mat-Su in the Alaska Legislature

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