Knik Arm Bridge

When you invite auditors into your business, it is always a good idea to make sure that their assumptions and your assumptions match. Such is the problem with the Legislative Audit Agency’s audit of the proposed Knik Arm Bridge that was so gleefully reported by the local fish wrapper and democrats in opposition to it last week.

The basic conclusions of the audit were that traffic models generated by consultants employed by the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) did not match up with traffic forecasts generated by consultants hired by the Legislative Audit Agency, and therefore the bridge was going to be far more expensive to build, would not pay itself off in any reasonable period of time, and become yet another (in)famous white elephant wasting public money.

I am a long time supporter of the Knik Arm Bridge, and believe that it is one of the two most important public works projects here in SouthCentral Alaska; the second being the proposed Susitna – Watana Dam. I was somewhat shocked at the results of the legislative audit so gleefully touted in the front pages of the local fish wrapper.

I downloaded the 262 page pdf of the audit and think I have come across the problem. The consultant hired by LegAudit assumed that organic population growth in the MatSu would drive traffic flow across the bridge. KABATA’s consultant assumes that growth from Anchorage – essentially people who can no longer afford homes in Anchorage – will drive the growth. Both assumptions drove their respective solutions. This dichotomy can be found in the chart at Appendix D on pp 37 of the report. It is rebutted in part by KABATA’s consultant in a letter printed at Appendix G, pp 69 – 83.

Here is the language from the Audit consultants from Appendix D, pp. 37 of their report:

Verified with Local Information from Business People, Realtors, Bankers, Land Use and Transportation Planners, Borough Ordinances, and Community Plans

Here is the language from the Knik Arm Bridge consultants on the same page:

Derived from Expected Spill-over of Anchorage Growth Expectations Given Housing Cost Differential and Housing and Industrial Land Shortages in Anchorage

You can find the report here. From what I have read, the LegAudit report and conclusions that there will be a significant shortfall in toll revenues is significantly flawed, as they reject out of hand spill over growth from Anchorage into the Point Mac area. People from Anchorage will move to Point Mac to escape higher property taxes and home prices – a fact not unnoticed by local opposition by elected democrats here in Anchorage. The opposition seems to know what will happen. It mystifies me that the consultants hired to prepare this report do not.

The Audit report makes a big deal about little if any decrease in travel time from the MatSu, including a pair of maps, one from Houston and one from Wasilla, comparing travel times down the existing Glenn and an alternate route across the Knik Arm Bridge at Point Mac. The travel times from Houston and Wasilla via both routes are as expected, roughly equal.

This is also incredibly poor work, as the big deal is travel time from Point Mac, where people from Anchorage will move to build homes, commute back and forth from Anchorage, with travel times in the couple tens of minutes as compared with over 100 minutes the long way from Point Mac.
Additionally, the Audit consultants give no weight to safety considerations for citizens here in Anchorage when they have a third way to quickly leave the Anchorage Bowl in the event of an emergency. Today, we only have the Glenn north out of town and the Seward Highway south. There is no attempt to quantify this improvement in public safety.

Finally, the Glenn between Anchorage and the MatSu is one of the most deadly roads in the state, particularly heavily traveled in the mornings and evenings on weekdays. Anything that can decrease traffic flow along that corridor will make overall commuting just a little bit safer. What is it we hear incessantly from the left as they foist all manner of big government and Nanny State solutions on us? That if whatever it is saves just one life, it must be done? Well, the Knik Arm Bridge should cut down traffic flow on the Glenn by some measurable amount. Less traffic equals fewer accidents and fewer lives lost in those accidents. Why was this improvement in public safety not considered?

The opposition to the bridge trots out all manner of excuses not to build it, starting with overall expense and ending up with protection of their tax base and home values here in the Anchorage Bowl. The opposition – greens, NIMBYs in the MatSu, democrats and the unions that support them – all want a captive audience here in Anchorage, as the years will force home prices out of the reach of our children and grandchildren, eventually forcing us to move into high density housing. An expansion of Anchorage residents into the Valley will provide relief from taxes, property costs, and home prices; all forcing local politicians to behave themselves as there will now be competition for their plans to govern us.

We here in SouthCentral have been dinking around with the Knik Arm Bridge for over 40 years. Every single year we delay, it gets more expensive (which is yet another little game played by the opposition) – unnecessarily so. Time to get off the dime and build it. Sooner would be better than later.