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Tongass Narrows has proven unbridgeable.
Not because of any construction hurdles — a hard link could be built. Rather, the projected cost of spanning the narrows with a structure that would not impede marine traffic prompted a national backlash that effectively scuttled the Ketchikan bridge while providing an impetus to end the use of congressional “earmarks” as a federal budgeting tool.
As a result, after decades of community support, millions of federal, state and local dollars spent on studies, planning and procedural costs, not to mention the expenditure of much political capital, Ketchikan continued to look across Tongass Narrows without a solution for improving access between Revillagigedo and Gravina islands.
In the absence of a bridge or tunnel, any improvement would involve the continued use of ferries — and the State of Alaska and Ketchikan Gateway Borough are close to moving forward with a concept that can improve the reliability of ferry transportation.
That’s a key point, highlighted by the situation that occurred in September when an equipment failure on the Gravina-side ferry ramp reduced ferry transportation to essentially just foot traffic until the ramp was repaired.
The state and borough are focusing on a project that would provide two ferry ramps on both sides of Tongass Narrows. That redundancy significantly reduces the potential for situations that could prevent vehicle access between the islands.
In the absence of a hard link, reliability of service should be a cornerstone of any project that aims to improve access across Tongass Narrows.
While the state and borough sort through upland designs and other details of the Gravina Access project, they’ve arrived at a solid foundation in the dual-ramp concept for improving transportation across a Tongass Narrows that is, for now, unbridgeable.