Bill Walker’s Next Boondoggle – Commuter Rail

One of the reasons I never supported Bill Walker for Governor was that I though he was an economic illiterate, trying to drag the state kicking and scratching, black heel marks all the way to build a natural gas pipeline.  The economic illiteracy comes from building a $60+ billion boondoggle to deliver product into a marketplace that is now and will continue to be saturated with product from other producers all of whom can produce and deliver it cheaper than Alaska can.

So, when your worldview starts and ends with economic illiteracy, it becomes much easier to sign on to the great left-wing cause of public transportation, this time, a service without a marketplace.

Commuter rail / light rail fills so many wonderful squares for democrats that they keep coming back to it.  It can be sold as environmentally friendly.  It offers a high level of control over the deplorables who would be forced to use it, as the State gets to write and execute the schedules, just like they do with the State Ferry system.  It can be used as an excuse not to build other sorely needed infrastructure like roads and bridges.  It offers an opportunity for guiding contracts to well-connected political supporters.  It takes away freedom from those who would otherwise be driving, putting them on foot at their destination here in Anchorage.  Most importantly, it tees up yet another set of hostages for Walker, the House majority, or any other group of democrats to use during the next (and there will always be a next) round of budget wars.

Transportation between Anchorage and the MatSu has long been a community sore point, with the democrats and their supporters doing their level best to obstruct a bridge across the Knik Arm.  Former Governor Palin foolishly joined into the fun, frittering away money Ted Stevens appropriated to build one in 2008, calling it a bridge to nowhere.

But the traffic problems persist as does the need for a second way out of Anchorage to the north and the south.

To be fair, there are a few ride sharing business operating between Anchorage and the MatSu.  There is also at least one commercial bus service.  Walker’s commuter rail would compete directly with those businesses for passengers, using taxpayer monies to drive them out of business.  Attempts to set up a ferry service between the Port of Anchorage and Point MacKenzie ended in a very expensive failure with the borough selling what was a federally-funded ferry for $12.6 million to the Philippine Red Cross in 2016.

You would think that with over a half century of rail traffic between Anchorage and Fairbanks, the Alaska Railroad would have figured out whether commuter rail would be an economically viable service.  As we don’t have any over that period, I would say that answer is a resounding no.

Finally, the opposition to the Knik Arm Bridge steadfastly focused on traffic models between Anchorage and the MatSu that low-balled and completely ignored expansion of Anchorage homeowners and businesses across the bridge into the Point Mac – Knik area.  Expect Walker’s commission to do the opposite by creating commuter traffic out of whole cloth.

Solution to the traffic problems between Anchorage and the MatSu?  Build the Knik Arm Bridge.  Sooner would be better than later.  This would give northbound traffic another option.  It would open the area around Point Mac for expansion by Anchorage residents, which in turn would start forcing property costs and in turn property taxes downward here in Anchorage (another reason the bridge is opposed by the Anchorage Assembly and local democrats).

Build the bridge.  Do it now.  Four additional lanes between Anchorage and Point Mac would be great, whether a toll road or not.  Throw in a parallel rail line and cut some travel time off the Alaska RR trip to Fairbanks.  We have been fiddling with this for nearly two generations.  Time to get off the dime and get to work because Walker’s commuter rail won’t hack it.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He is a small business owner and Information Technology professional.



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