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Forget the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ — This is Alaska’s $64 Million ‘Runway for No One’

"The runway itself won’t be on the same island as the village..."

The projected hovercraft route. (Graphic: CNN and the Alaska Dept. of Transportation)

Almost everyone has heard about Alaska's now infamous "bridge to nowhere" -- the $400 million project mocked as a model of government waste that was supposed to connect Ketchikan to its airport on the sparsely-populated Gravina Island. Well now it has a rival, again in Alaska, called the "runway for no one."

In short, officials are spending $64 million on a runway on an uninhabited island between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean. In fact, in order to get to and from the runway, nearby residents of Akutan will have to take a helicopter or a hovercraft -- a mode of transportation that could be problematic in the rough waters.

The Alaska Dispatch reports:

By next winter the small village in Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain will have a new runway, long enough to handle planes carrying nearly 40 passengers. But the community won’t have easy access to the $64 million airport. The runway itself won’t be on the same island as the village, but six miles away across a windswept and turbulent strait fed in part by the notoriously rough Bering Sea.

And therein lies the problem: figuring out how residents and seasonal workers will get to the airport. A $13 million plan for a hovercraft to shuttle passengers from the airstrip to the community and back may not work, leaving local leaders in search of a solution. Now, they may need a helicopter. If they don’t find a fix by next summer, they could have a $64 million airstrip in the middle of nowhere.

According to CNN, the bill for the 4,500-foot-long runway will be paid for by $59 million in federal and $5 million in state funds.

So why is it needed? CNN explains:

Should officials get it all figured out and funded, who'll benefit? Akutan has a year-round population of 100, but that spikes to about 1,000 in the summer when Trident Seafoods processing plant, the largest seafood processing plant in North America, is in operation, the Dispatch reports. Trident is contributing $1 million to the project, the Dispatch says.

And why is this necessary? Air service to Akutan is now provided by World War II-era amphibious aircraft operated by Peninsula Airways. Those are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, Peninsula Vice President Brian Carricaburu told the Dispatch.

Carricaburu also says the runway could cut the government's costs in one way. Peninsula Airways routes to Akutan are now subsidized by about $700,000 annually under the federal Essential Air Service program. Using bigger, more efficient aircraft could bring that cost down, he told the Dispatch.

Government waste or necessary spending? You decide. Either way, the name is catchy.

One last thing…
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