Roads and politics, politics and roads. Two awkward bedfellows in this state. For every proposed road or bridge or, really, anything there are as many opinions about the proposal as there are people.
A road from King Cove so people can get to the hospital in an emergency without an airlift or braving treacherous water in small and under powered boats? Can’t do that. Too much pristine wilderness will be ruined. Who’ll maintain it? The state shouldn’t have to provide a road that only serves a single community.
A bridge across Knik Arm? Same thing, same questions.
It seems, to my under-educated and rash mind that the problem we face in Alaska with infrastructure development is not so much the public’s inevitable backlash from all sides, but rather a really poor sense of thinking for the future and developing plans based not on our current needs but on the community’s needs fifty years from now.
Case in point: the Knik Arm Bridge. I am still of the opinion that this route of egress is sorely needed in the city. I no longer think the proposed design is the right one with only a single lane each direction. It doesn’t make sense to build something for the currently projected volume only to need to add on and widen in three or five or ten years. And as a general rule bridges aren’t just widened or remodeled. No, new ones are built parallel to the existing and then the existing is left to rot.
There is a challenge that is unique to Alaska, though, when trying to gain public support. A few challenges, actually. First is the rampant conservatism here. And I don’t mean politically, I mean in the social sense. There is a huge constituency who do not want to see any changes occur that may result in any change to the way that they live their lives. They don’t want to see anything happen that does not exactly jive with their world view. I get it. Humans tend to relish the comfort of stasis and avoid change… avoid the unknown.
The problem, though, is that through resisting change and actively working against it, we create the very situations we wish to avoid- overcrowding, crime, traffic, etc., etc. Whether it be in the social realm or the political realm, it seems that fighting against change doesn’t result in things getting better or even staying the same, but rather getting worse. I don’t have any evidence to support these claims. Deal with it.
In a state like Alaska where we have a small population and an economic base that generally relies on one of four industries for survival: tourism, state government, federal government, and Big Oil, conservatism of any stripe becomes dangerous and the tool that the industries use to get what they want.
We don’t want to change because change could cause our cash cow to go belly up. We do want to change unless those changes benefit our cash cow, even at the expense of the people. We are scared of newcomers. We are scared that infrastructure will crowd us out of our own homes. We’re constantly scared that the oil companies will pack up and move out, leaving us with, essentially, nothing. We are so scared that we only think for the now and what are our immediate needs.
It often feels like I keep saying the same things. We need to start thinking about the future. Maybe it is just my own worries about my own future. As I get older I guess I find that I am starting to think about things differently than I used to. I think about kids going to college and wanting to eventually retire. About getting that damned student loan paid off. Maybe I’m projecting my fears onto the good people of Alaska. Yeah. That might be it. Though I don’t think it’s an arguable point that there is a lot of resistance to change in this state.
Didn’t I say there were two unique things about influencing public opinion in this state? Yes, I did. The second is that we are cheap. Cheaper than most, it seems. While it is important to show a real financial viability of a project before undertaking it, our essential cheapness — coupled with our inability to look to the future — makes it that much harder to get ambitious projects off the ground. Or to even propose appropriate projects. I go back to the Knik Arm bridge, right? An appropriate proposal would be to look 25 years down the road. What are the traffic needs going to be then? How can we design the bridge to accommodate those rather than our needs right now? Four lanes in each direction? Maybe. How about multiple lanes each way with a separated ped/bike lane to accommodate alternate forms of transportation? How about a bridge with a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane that is directional based on time of day – inbound in the AM and outbound in the PM? All of this costs money. I know. But not thinking ahead and building something that only addresses short term needs costs more in the long run.
I guess all I’m trying to get at here is that we need more routes in and out of the city and if we are going to spend the money, which we should, we need to make sure we are thinking not of our needs right now, but our needs for the future and plan appropriately.
Next week I’ll talk about corrupt politicians and how they are destroying this state. Or maybe I’ll talk about bikes. Yeah, that’d be good. Bikes. Those are innocuous enough, aren’t they?
Until then – ride on.