Drive the Dalton Highway
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View bears at Katmai.

The Bridge

Seven-year-old Charlie pulled his red wagon, loaded with dirt, from Fourth Avenue through downtown Anchorage, out across the Alaska Railroad yards to the muddy shore of Knik Arm.

There his father and scores of Anchorage residents and civic leaders pushing wheelbarrows, carts and other dirt-laden vessels dumped their loads onto the mud flats, the symbolic first step toward the construction of the bridge to Point McKenzie. Charlie turns 55 this month and recalled the parade with some humor. “The idea has been around a long time,” he chuckled.

 

The Knik Arm Bridge might have appeared on the national stage when a Washington, D.C., political commentator labeled it a “bridge to nowhere” during the last presidential campaign, but the idea—as illustrated above—is not a new one.

Whether building the bridge is a good idea is still hotly debated here in Southcentral Alaska (See Bridge to Somewhere? Page 40). If the bridge were built, it would affect Anchorage in many ways: some good, some bad. Traffic flow through downtown Anchorage would change; housing prices in Anchorage could drop; Government Hill, one of Anchorage’s most historic neighborhoods, would be forever changed. On the other hand, development in the Anchorage bowl might slow, but flourish in a less crowded manner.

Point McKenzie, now largely undeveloped, would undergo industrial and residential development at a pace not seen in Alaska for decades, and that is a point that seems lost—or at least misunderstood—by Outsiders. Bridges in urban environs of the Lower 48 are often meant to alleviate poor traffic flow, speed up commutes, or shorten transport time between air and seaports, etc. Alaska still has vast tracts of undeveloped land. Some is too remote and rugged for development to be feasible. Other areas have been set aside in the form of parks and public lands, or are home to rich wildlife resources. Some however, like Point McKenzie, is well situated close to already developed regions, in this case Anchorage and the Matanuska and Susitna Valleys, yet still inaccessible.

Before judging the project based on Lower-48 standards, remember that this is still a largely undeveloped territory. In this case, the most densely populated region of Alaska is separated from one of the most sparsely populated areas by Knik Arm, a narrow but formidable body of water. Should it be bridged? Can it be bridged? Those are questions yet to be answered, but don’t dismiss them because of a misinformed label.

It could be a bridge to somewhere. It’s just that nothing is there, yet.

2014 Alaska Magazine Photo Contest

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