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State Senate Looks at Realigning KABATA

By Adam Pinsker, Multimedia Political Reporter, apinsker@ktuu.com
Published On: Mar 19 2014 09:00:03 PM AKDT
Updated On: Mar 19 2014 09:10:04 PM AKDT

State senators began hearings Wednesday for a proposed bridge between Port MacKenzie and the Port of Anchorage, which may move from a private-public partnership to a publicly financed project.

ANCHORAGE -

State senators began hearings Wednesday on how to finance a proposed bridge between Port MacKenzie and the Port of Anchorage, which may move from a private-public partnership to a publicly financed project.

Officials with the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority told the Senate Finance Committee that the project may be safer solely in state hands.

“There's less risk for the state with a public finance model,” said Judy Dougherty, KABATA’s deputy director for project development. “First of all, only two-thirds of the project is even being financed -- a third of it is coming from federal receipts.”

According to KABATA, the estimated price tag for the first phase of the bridge is $782 million, $76 million more than the last financial estimate done in 2010. The cost increase represents inflation and changes to bridge length.

The bridge would be paid for with three pots of money: federal highway funds, state bonds and transportation infrastructure loans. Those funds would be supplemented by toll revenues.

"Juneau-Douglas Bridge carries about 9,500 vehicles a day. If that bridge were tolled, at the rates we are proposing for the Knik Arm Crossing, that bridge would be generating roughly 20 million dollars a year in toll revenue,” Dougherty said.

Senate Finance member Sen. Donny Olson (D-Golovin) still isn’t comfortable with exposing the state to more financial liability.

"Questionable in the point of the toll amount revenue that is going to be generated, the amount that it is going to cost to do Phase 1 and Phase 2 of that project, and the whole setup there, causes questions in the way they've conducted themselves in the past six months,” Olson said.

The House passed a measure last April that placed the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. in charge of KABATA, but the Senate Finance Committee officially removed that provision once the bill appeared on the agenda.

A legislative audit showed KABATA inflated the number of drivers that would use the bridge. Olson says the situation has influenced his feelings toward the costs he’s heard.

"Lack of confidence that this project is indeed going to operate in the black, and that's what I'm drawing away from this,” Olson said.

More hearings on KABATA’s new bridge plan are scheduled for next week.