The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Both Don Canney and Sarah Palin have had a bridge issue: Cedar Rapids happy with its ‘Bridge to Nowhere’

In City Hall on September 14, 2008 at 11:49 pm

It is worth noting what with Sarah Palin slated to stop in Cedar Rapids on Thursday:

Cedar Rapids’ mayoral legend, Don Canney, and Palin, former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, had something in common back in late 2006 when Palin was running for governor of Alaska. Of course, she’s now running for vice president.

In late 2006, both Canney and Palin were former mayors who had been strong advocates of a Bridge to Nowhere.

In Canney’s case, it was back in 1969, during his first run for mayor back, when he faced down criticism for his bridge, which one of his election opponents coined the Bridge to Nowhere.

Canney, though, convinced voters that it made sense for the city of Cedar Rapids to build a new bridge over the Cedar River on Edgewood Road, even though there was still sparse development in the area. The bridge opened the next year, Canney continued as mayor until he stepped down in 1992, and his belief in his bridge never flagged.

“That’s an area where you can see how the lives of future generations have changed with one project. You take away that bridge, you wouldn’t have that development,” Canney said of the Edgewood Road bridge when he left the mayor’s post in 1992.

There’s no dispute in most mainstream news accounts that Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate and governor of Alaska, was among the advocates for Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere in late 2006 as she campaigned for governor.

Then the bridge, which was in line for $223 million in federal funds, became one of the often-mentioned examples of federal pork-barrel spending.

(Another example of much-maligned federal pork was the $50 million secured for Iowa’s indoor rainforest project. The project has never been built and most of the federal money never spent.)

Projects that get slipped into Congressional bills are now well-known as “earmarks.”

Eventually, Sarah Palin turned against Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere. The bridge was not built and money for it reportedly was spent on other Alaska projects.

What no one ever says much about, though, is why Palin and one Alaska’s Senators and its Congressman favored Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere in the first place.

The Alaska bridge must have been a good idea in the minds of Palin and others when they supported it.

News accounts note that the proposed bridge was called the Gravina Island Bridge, and it was intended to connect the town of Ketchikan, population about 14,000, to Gravina Island, home to about 50 people and to Ketchikan’s airport.

The island and airport, which served 222,249 passengers in 2007, currently are served by a ferry. (By way of comparison, the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids handled 1,061,052 passengers in 2007.)

According to reports, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities said the bridge’s intent was to provide better service to the airport and to promote development on the island.

Those are reasons.

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