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After decades of beating its head against the wall known as the link to the airport, Ketchikan might try a new approach.
The airport link has been studied and restudied by the state Department of Transportation since the airport opened in 1973. Repeatedly, the DOT has come to the community and presented options, ranging from a variety of bridges to ferries to doing nothing, and at each public comment meeting and in the weeks and months that followed, individuals and group representatives listed the reasons why one option or another wouldn't be advisable.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted this week to support one of the bridge options presented by state officials earlier this summer. But, if the state won't proceed with a bridge, then the Assembly would be in favor of improved ferry service. The City of Ketchikan recently endorsed a ferry option.
When state officials came to town this summer to explain DOT's latest list of choices, the fact that it was still even considering the airport link project surprised people in Ketchikan — at least a lot of them. That's because it's been 40 years since the airport-link discussion began.
That the topic is still on the table with the state might be a positive signal. But, still, it's been four decades. Maybe it's time to try a new approach.
Through the years, Ketchikan has acquired state funding for numerous projects.
The process has been: Ketchikan and its elected officials determine which projects are most important to the community; those projects are listed on a priority list, which is shared with the governor and the Legislature. Then, the local municipal and elected officials lobby the state for the funds to build, for example, the port, the shipyard, the library, the firehall, the intertie. All of these projects and many others not only received state funds, but were built. Completed. Most of these were proposed long after the airport link.
Granted, the airport link is likely to cost considerably more than any of these projects received — at least in one allocation. But several allocations and a phased construction plan might do the trick. And at least the community's process for receiving capital funding from the state has proven itself.
Perhaps Ketchikan should hold meetings and decide what it wants in terms of airport access. Let the airplane pilots, the marine pilots, and representatives of other groups, who have historically weighed in on the state's proposed options, participate. Let them come to an agreement on what is best for travelers, the waterfront, the industry and the community; then take that concensus to the state, along with a capital funding request.
It's sure worth considering as an approach. Because the approach employed for decades hasn't produced anything new. Ketchikan started with ferries when the state started studying airport access, and it still has ferries.
If that's what Ketchikan wants, fine. But, if not, then a new approach for airport access is necessary.