A $64 million runway for no one in Alaska?
The route a hovercraft would take between the village of Akutan and the runway on Akun Island.
September 28th, 2011
12:56 PM ET

A $64 million runway for no one in Alaska?

Remember Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere," a $400 million span that was supposed to connect Ketchikan to its airport on sparsely inhabited Gravina Island? The project gained infamy in 2005 as a waste of taxpayer dollars and the funds earmarked for it were withheld. The 8,000 residents of Ketchikan continue to be connected to their airport by ferry.

Fast forward six years and another remote Alaskan airport project is raising questions about how the government spends money.

The price this time is $77 million and the place is Akutan, a remote island village in the Aleutian chain, according to a report from the Alaska Dispatch.

By next winter Akutan is scheduled to have a 4,500-foot-long runway, built at a cost of $64 million ($59 million in federal and $5 million state funds), the Dispatch reports. The problem is, the runway is on Akun Island, 6 miles from the village across the treacherous waters of the Bering Sea. Plying those waters can be tricky with seas over 6 feet and winds above 30 mph.

Original plans called for using a hovercraft - at a cost of $11 million - to ferry passengers from Akutan to Akun. But, the Dispatch points out, the same model hovercraft planned for the route has proven unreliable under similar conditions elsewhere in Alaska. And when it did run, operating losses were in the millions.

Now, transportation officials are considering using a helicopter to ferry passengers from Akutan, according to the Dispatch report. Cost of that is still being determined.

Should officials get it all figured out and funded, who'll benefit? Akutan has a year-round population of 100, but that spikes to about 1,000 in the summer when Trident Seafoods processing plant, the largest seafood processing plant in North America, is in operation, the Dispatch reports. Trident is contributing $1 million to the project, the Dispatch says.

And why is this necessary? Air service to Akutan is now provided by World War II-era amphibious aircraft operated by Peninsula Airways. Those are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, Peninsula Vice President Brian Carricaburu told the Dispatch.

Carricaburu also says the runway could cut the government's costs in one way. Peninsula Airways routes to Akutan are now subsidized by about $700,000 annually under the federal Essential Air Service program. Using bigger, more efficient aircraft could bring that cost down, he told the Dispatch.

But to reach that point, it looks like a lot of figurative bridges have to be crossed.

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Filed under: Air travel • Alaska • Travel
soundoff (937 Responses)
  1. Glen

    I say use a submarine like they did in Lost.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Robert H

    Hmmm . . . . a 77 million dollar runway and an 11 million dollar hovercraft to save 700 thousand.dollar refurbishment.

    Ignoring inflation and overruns and opportunity costs and hovercraft operating losses that would all make the figures look MUCH worse the payback period would be 125 years, 8 months and 21 days. (approximately)

    Palinomics at it's finest.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Brown

      Isn't this really Obamanomics? It's a Federal boondog... erm... project, after all.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anthony too

      Can't blame Obama for this, your Republican State and Congress votes on this stuff.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • kirstyloo

      I'd like to ask the question which Alaskan senator or representative came up with this idea? And who negotiated it? It shouldn't be hard to work out. Whose vote was needed by whom?

      September 29, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. guy

    scary financial management by government politicians...we need real biz management people doing the projects without political interference.....a private business project like this would have been halted and the managers fired.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Near Border

    900 workers of Trident Seafood? No one ever got rich on their own. Perfect example. Taxpayers contribute $77M to the company's $1M. Wonder how much taxes they shelter overseas.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. Nat Q

    What would Ron Paul do?

    September 29, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. rick hall

    Do your homework before repeating dumb political sound bites. The so-called bridge to nowhere was a bridge for tourists and people of Ketchikan to efficiently get to their airport versus driving the length of a long peninsula.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Rick, Don't write an aggressive post, Particularly when you have your facts wrong.
      As the article says, the airport is on an island. You can not drive there. You take a
      ferry a few hundred yards across the channel to the airport. It is a cost effective and
      Efficient means of access. The "Bridge To Nowhere" was an exorbitant government
      Expenditure due solely to political patronage.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    Hey Rick, no matter how much driving one does, one cannot access Ketchikan Airport via road.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. Anthony manzella

    All of you are fools. They have always been spending money like this and you think it's going to change by you crying. Get a book and read your dumb facts. Like it makes a differance daaaa smart..S.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. HJ

    FACT: EAS is funded NOT by every average Joe taxpayer... But rather by the people using the US aviation system who pay a tax that funds EAS (taxes charged when purchasing an airline ticket, taxes paid on landing fees, etc.)

    So. Let's see.... We need to use the $700k EAS subsidy as a scapegoat for this project?? So that EVERY taxpayer in America has to pay for these people's air service instead??? EAS works because it is funded by the community that benefits from it (the aviation community).

    Don't leave out these facts and tell people this new runway is justified "because they'll pay less in the long term." The money would come from another program that is funded by every taxpayer in the state and nation.

    Don't get me wrong, I understand how necessary air travel is for this part of the country and I support projects that would bring benefit to the infrastructure. I just don't like being fed b.s. about why it's important and where the money is coming from. Transparency will set youn free!!! 🙂

    September 29, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. PraveenIndia

    Don't worry. From the passenger volumes that they have predicted for the new airport, Sarah Palin's private yacht will be enough to ferry them to and fro.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. liz1388

    Hmmm. [sarcasm mode on] Maybe we should just let Alaska secede and fund their own projects like this as a country? Due to location and geographical factors, seems like the fiscally responsible cut to make.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. Lulz

    And yet we give billions in aid to countries that don't like us, like Pakistan. Hundreds of billions in welfare.
    God forbid we try to allow these people modern access to the rest of civilization.

    Of all the things to bit** about...

    Salaries of the Senate (not even the House, which has more members) (175 million)
    Most MIL R&D Programs (including things like the Littoral Combat Ship and the Joint Tactical Radio System) (226 million+)
    The new "New Orleans Storm Protection" program (3230 million)
    Tennessee Valley Authority (719 million)
    Architect of the Capitol (740 million)
    Pakistan (1200 million)
    Census (7375 million)
    TSA (5724 million)
    "Financial Reform" (877 million)

    September 29, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Peter

    This is what Obama understand by job creation. Get people on temporarry jobs for some non viable and unsustainable projects and then claim employment creation. This is how he spends the borrowed stimulus money.

    Vote republicans and say no to this waste. No stimulus spending – cut govt and stimulate private sector job creation

    September 29, 2011 at 3:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. jayman419

    How much bigger can the planes get on a 4500ft runway?

    September 29, 2011 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
  15. dangerboyandpixie

    Soo...Trident kicks in $1 mil; fed and state kick in $76 mil combined so that Trident can benefit. Where can I send my check for $26,315 to get $2 million back? This is better than the lottery!

    When I grow up – I wanna be a corporation.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
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