By Tom Elko
Over 37 million people saw Sarah Palin declare in her acceptance speech that she told Congress, “thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere.” That statement is demonstrably false, but the campaign of Sen. John McCain continues to tout Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s opposition to the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” despite once linking it to the collapse of the 35W bridge.
During the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Palin was a strong proponent of the project, which aimed to connect the town of Ketchikan, Alaska, to a nearby airport on Gravina Island.
Once governor, Palin killed the effort only after it became apparent that the federal government wasn’t going to put any more money into the bloated project beyond the $233 million in earmarks that Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, had already secured. Under pressure to cut wasteful spending, Congress then stripped the stipulation that the money be spent on a bridge but allowed the state of Alaska to keep the $233 million for other transportation projects. Palin then directed her transportation commissioner, Leo von Scheben, to review transportation projects statewide to prepare a list of possible uses for the funds.
Days after the 35W bridge collapse John McCain connected that $233 million with the tragedy that claimed 13 lives in Minneapolis.
“Maybe if we had done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country,” McCain said at a campaign stop in Ankeny, Iowa on Aug. 4, 2007. “Maybe the 200,000 people who cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your tax dollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it.”
One month after McCain’s critical comments Palin changed her position on the bridge, citing the project’s high cost to Alaskans, while continuing to defend the project.
“Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Palin stated in a released statement dated Sept. 21, 2007. “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.”