Gov. Bill Walker’s Ketchikan visit this week prompted ideas to flow for Gravina Island access.
About $90 million — give or take — is available from the federal funds allotted for a hard link to Gravina. The state canceled the project in 2007. At that time, funds — around $300 million — remained. More than $200 million was diverted to other transportation projects in the state.
Gov. Walker promises the remaining funds will be spent in Ketchikan. That sum is $96 million, according to some sources, and around $87 million by other state officials.
Either way, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which operates the state-owned airport on Gravina, has identified projects on which the remaining funds can be spent.
The borough aims to improve the airport ferry terminals, improve the borough’s transit access to the airport, renovate ferries to save in operating costs and extend the Gravina road system from the airport location.
As airport owners, the state should be committed to these projects even if the Gravina access funds weren’t available. It’s a matter of maintaining its property.
The Gravina access money was intended to provide a link from Revillagigedo Island to Gravina. This link would be comparable to the roads that access the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage or any other airport in the state. Local and state governments provide access.
Alaskans and visitors who drive to those airports pay no toll, unlike in Ketchikan where most pay — at a minimum — the price for an individual ticket to ride the ferry across Tongass Narrows. Prices increase for groups and motor vehicles.
Those tolls most likely wouldn’t have existed had a bridge been built between the islands.
Ketchikan is always willing to pay its way when a fee is applied consistent with other airports. It pays even when it isn’t, as is the case with airport access. But it shouldn’t be charged a toll when such a fee isn’t required to access other airports.
The borough has proposed worthy projects for the Gravina access money. No estimates have been made available for those. But, a portion of the Gravina access project’s original funds might be considered for investment, the earnings of which could be used to help defer the toll Ketchikan residents and visitors here pay to go to or from the airport. Perhaps the investment could be allowed to increase in value before earnings were appropriated. At least, in years to come, Ketchikan could look forward to the day when the toll might be less or disappear. The toll wouldn’t have existed today had the original bridge idea come to fruition since its cancellation nine years ago.
The funds for the Gravina access project have been diminishing in recent years. It’s time to make a decision on their expenditure in Ketchikan.
Gov. Walker has agreed to that almost two years into his administration. That leaves just over two more years to get it done.
There’s no promise beyond then.
— Ketchikan Daily News,