Today, Senator Tom
Coburn (R-OK) will offer an amendment to the Senate's appropriation
bill to transfer the $223 million that Congress had previously
approved for a bridge in Ketchikan, Alaska, to fund reconstruction
of a hurricane-damaged bridge in Louisiana. Dubbed the "Bridge to
Nowhere," the bridge in Alaska would connect the town of Ketchikan
(population 8,900) with its airport on the Island of Gravina
(population 50) at a cost to federal taxpayers of $320 million, by
way of three separate earmarks in the recent highway bill. At
present, a ferry service runs to the island, but some in the town
complain about its wait (15 to 30 minutes) and fee ($6 per car).
The Gravina Island bridge project is an embarrassment to the people
of Alaska and the U.S. Congress. Fiscally responsible Members of
Congress should be eager to zero out its funding.
The bridge has
become an object of national ridicule and a symbol of the fiscal
irresponsibility of many in Congress toward the money entrusted to
them by the taxpayers. It has also become an embarrassment to the
people of Alaska and to responsible members of Congress who now
find themselves tarred by the same brush dipped in the muck of the
In response to
this national humiliation, many in Alaska have vented their anger
in the state's newspapers, and the papers' editors have also
objected to the bridge on their editorial pages.
Anchorage Daily News, Diane Mucha of Eagle River wrote, "Of
course, Alaska should and, hopefully, will volunteer to reject the
money for the bridges to nowhere and Congress will apply the money
for the hurricane relief efforts."
David Raskin of
Homer, Alaska, wrote, "Alaskans owe an apology to the people of New
Orleans, to Alaska Native people and to the Nation for their
selfish shortsightedness in sending these scoundrels to Washington
and voting to keep them there."
In the Ketchikan
News, Dave Person wrote, "Thinking about the immense
disaster in the Gulf States, it occurred to me that the most
effective thing that the residents of Ketchikan could do to help
would be to return the money earmarked for our Gravina Bridge."
Back in Anchorage,
Art Weiner wrote, "In a collective act of passion, the people of
Alaska should request that the funds appropriated for our bridges
be used for infrastructure reconstruction in the hurricane-affected
willingness of many in Alaska to give back the bridge to pay for
disaster relief, Alaska's congressional delegation has dug in its
heels, and many of the delegation's colleagues, including all of
congressional leadership, support its resistance. If Alaska loses
some of its pork, they fear, so might they.
Senator Coburn's amendment to defund the bridge, one prominent
Senator told a closed-door meeting of conservatives that the plan
was simply impractical. Many of the earmarks, he claimed, are
counted towards a state's equity bonus and thus are part of the
state-by-state allocation formula. Defunding the bridge, he said,
would direct at most $75 million to Louisiana, with the remaining
$148 million returning to Alaska as money the state could use at
its discretion for road projects.
Never mind that
the Senator seems to view $75 million in taxpayers' dollars as a
sum of little consequence; what the Senator sees as a problem in
fact would be a considerable benefit to Alaska. Assuming the
Senator's numbers are right, Alaska's Department of Transportation
would gain $148 million in money it could spend on the state's
transportation priorities instead of a useless bridge that would
serve a tiny fraction of the state's citizens.
recognizing that the citizens of Alaska, including many in
Ketchikan, do not value the Gravina Island bridge project, its
defenders have been forced to resort to threats. One House
"Leadership staffer suggested that retribution could be levied for
the removal of the project in a technical corrections bill or other
measure," BNA reported. This is the sort of challenge that fiscally
responsible senators should relish and, through their votes, show
the House leadership exactly what they think of this childish
threat. Most importantly, pushing back would show the nation that
their august institution of democracy still maintains the moral
authority to be trusted with hard-earned tax dollars.
Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D.,
is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow in the Thomas A.
Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage