Knik Arm Bridge Authority seeks toll concession proposals

December 21, 2006
Anchorage from across the Knik Arm
Anchorage from across the Knik Arm
So far development across the Knik Arm is to the east, closer to Anchorage by the land route, but the proposed bridge (in red) would open up the area opposite Anchorage.
So far development across the Knik Arm is to the east, closer to Anchorage by the land route, but the proposed bridge (in red) would open up the area opposite Anchorage.
The Knik Arm Bridge & Toll Authority (KABATA) has issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for groups interested in a toll concession for the approx$500m bridge in Anchorage, the major city of Alaska. An announcement asks for statements of qualifications from people interested in doing some or all of "develop, design, construct, finance, operate and maintain a tolled bridge facility and associated roadways and facilities across the Knik Arm... through a public-private agreement."

Existing state legislation allows a toll concession of up to 55 years.

Deadline for responses to the RFQ is Mar 13. Workshops are planned on the project in Anchorage Jan 17 and New York City Jan 23.

Darryl Jordan of KABATA told us they hope to have a shortlist of qualified proposers by end April, a concession contract by Nov 2007 and a financial close by year's end. Nossaman, lawyers hired to advise KABATA, argue for a couple more months he said. The authority would like a full season's construction in 2008 for completion by end 2010, or 2011 at the latest.

Permitting is well advanced with a final environmental impact statement due end Jan 2007 and a federal record of decision by March. There's the draft EIS on the authority's website.

Anchorage hemmed in without a bridge

Anchorage is presently a peninsula hemmed in on all sides - by the ocean on two sides, a national park and mountain and military bases on the others. The Pentagon is the largest area employer.

The proposed bridge, estimated to cost between $500m and $600m will span the 4.25km (14k ft) Knik Arm channel to provide access to the relatively undeveloped Mat-Su borough that is attractive for residential, industrial and port development if connected directly to Anchorage (area pop 370k). Mat-Su borough is already developing but without the bridge there are long circuitous trips to Anchorage around the eastern end of the Arm (up to 80mins, 110km or 70mi longer).

The bridge will also provide a more direct route to the inland from the state's major port and staging center. A fixed crossing is also seen as providing an important evacuation route in case of earthquake, military, or other emergency.

Anchorage International Airport (ANC) may be relocated to a less constrained site near Point MacKenzie on the north side of Knik Arm after the bridge is built. Seaport expansion is only possible at Point MacKenzie, across the water.

Concession chosen because one-off nature of toll bridge

Jordan said the KABATA board of directors decided on a toll concession rather than the traditional public toll authority as providing the most potential value. A major consideration was that the Knik Arm Bridge is likely to be an isolated project.

"They thought it wouldn't make sense to develop an authority with internal expertise for just one project. It would be more efficient to tap the national and international pool of expertise that already exists among concessionaires, was the thinking."

An intermediate level traffic and revenue study by WSA was recently completed for KABATA. WSA spend a lot of space describing the likely patterns of development with and without a bridge. The bridge moves development to opposite Anchorage where it can take advantage of the bridge but affects overall development little. Industries benefitting specially from low land costs such as warehousing, trucking, gravel, and metal fabrication move heavily to Mat-Su borough. Presumably better accommodating industries like this reduces overall costs of doing business and make the area more competitive.

Construction of the $20b Prudhoe Bay-Chicago natural gas line across Alaska and Canada could be largely staged out of Anchorage. And opening of the Arctic Wildlife Reserve to oil development - if that ever happens - would require support from Anchorage.

Fishing, hunting and sightseeing are major activities depending on the metropolitan facilities of Anchorage and there are large timber resources in the hinterland that can be shipped out of ports there.

The Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army post are the major military installations.

Tolls of $3 cash

WSA estimate $3/car in 2010 as the optimal cash toll and $2.40/car for transponder trips, with an N - 1 formula (N = axles) for higher vehicle classes, so a 5-axle tractor trailer pays 4 times the car toll. Toll rates are assumed adjusted upwards by a third in 2020 and another quarter in 2030.

Trucks represent about 12% of traffic, and transponders rise from 15% of transactions in year 1 to 36% in 2015 to 56% in 2020 and 76% by 2039.

WSA traffic projections are discounted by 50% first year, 40% second etc to reach an equilibrium level in 2015 the fifth year - the 'ramp-up' allowing for knowledge of bridge opportunities to spread slowly during five opening years.

19k/day after ramp up in 2015

Projections are:

......veh/day $m/yr tolls

2010 6.7k $9.3m

2015 19.1k $25.4m (ramp-up end)

2020 23.3k $39.8m (tolls up 33%)

2025 30.5k $51.3m

2030 34.2k $71.3m (tolls up 25%)

2035 39.0k $80.6m

2039 42.0k $86.6m

Not a Bridge to Nowhere

This certainly is not Rep Don Young's Bridge to Nowhere, the apt term coined by the New York Times to characterize the proposed 60m (200ft) high Gravina Island Bridge over the Tsongas Narrows to an airport with five or six small planes/day at the township of Ketchikan, pop 14k which was unlikely to reach a thousand vehicles/day. The Knik Arm bridge is in an area with 25 times the population and decent growth prospects. Unlike the Ketchikan bridge which has to provide clearance for cruise ships the Knik Arm Bridge only needs to provide clearance of 16m (50ft) because the port is outside it. About thirty 90m (300ft) spans probably of box girder design are thought to be optimal, according to engineers looking at pier versus superstructure trade-offs. Airport flight paths make it tough to accommodate any suspension towers, except perhaps on the west side of the 4.27km (14k ft) channel.

But that's notional. KABATA's Darryl Jordan says the authority wants to leave it to potential concessionaires to specify the bridge. He says it's possible concessionaires will propose just a 2-lane bridge to begin with, perhaps with foundations to water level for addition of a second 2-lanes when traffic builds to justify it. They might propose 3 lanes, in order to have a central reversible lane. Or they might want to build the bridge to the full 2x2 lanes at the start. Similarly the concessionaires may have different toll system proposals from the transponder/cash option in the WSA T&R study - including video tolling.

The area is earthquake-prone so high seismic resistance is required.

Jordan pitches the bridge as a "great investment" for concessionaires, on the basis that it will develop a solid clientele with a growing area across the water - and face no real competition.

KABATA has about $100m in pledged federal and state grants to contribute to the project, and expects to be able to swing TIFIA loans and private activity bond status for the rest.


TOLLROADSnews 2006-12-21

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