BRIDGES IN ALASKA
In the early 1980s then Governor George Nigh announced the construction of "Northwest Passage," a super two-lane highway along the route of SH 3 from northwest Oklahoma City to Boise City in the Oklahoma panhandle. Up until that time SH 3 had been a narrow, two lane road, used mostly by 18-wheel cattle haulers and tourist traffic on the way to Colorado. The "major" towns it served were Woodward, Guymon and Boise City.
Almost immediately Nigh’s proposal to widen the road became known in eastern Oklahoma as "Nigh’s road to nowhere." Most of those who snickered at the name had never driven the route. Northwest Passage today is a heavily traveled route that has cut more than five hours off the driving time from Oklahoma City to Denver, and has greatly reduced the previously high number of traffic fatalities.
There are ten flights a day into the Ketchikan International airport. Yes, it is an International airport. This means there are 45,000 passengers who travel through there every month. The people who focus on "50" permanent residents living on the Island fail to recognize that there are many hundreds more who work at the airport, and the city of Ketchikan, which has a population of 8,000 itself is part of an area encompassing 15,000 residents. Those flights are how they get to medical care, visit family and friends, and transport goods. The airport is part of the fabric of the community and their most important link to the rest of the world.
Touted as the "Salmon Capital of the World," Ketchikan is the "First City" on the inside passage to Alaska. The city is located on an island a few miles north of the Canadian border town of Port Rupert. There are no roads leading into Ketchikan. The only way in or out is by air or water. There are rugged mountains on the east, and the Tongass Narrows on the west. The city’s international airport is across the narrows on Gravina Island.
I have used the ferry many times. The media likes to claim it only takes five minutes, or even three minutes, to ride the ferry. That is not quite correct. I can guarantee you that if you are trying to catch a plane and presume you only need five minutes to make it you will miss your flight. The loading and unloading on each end make it take twenty to thirty minutes to actually get from the Island where Ketchikan sits, to the island where the airport is located. They ignore the fact that only a dozen vehicles can use it any time. Have you tried to fly from Eugene to Portland? The actual flight time is short, but the real travel time requires you to find a parking spot, haul your luggage to check in, go through security, fly to your destination, pick up your bags, and find transportation to your final destination. It is not unusual to find that driving is faster when traveling between two communities where the flight time is measured in a few minutes. Likewise, to believe one can use the ferry in Ketchikan and make the trip to or from the airport in three minutes is absurd. It suggests the speaker either has never been there, or is intentionally being deceptive.
Access to the airport is inconvenient and inefficient for airport users and businesses. The airport ferry operates 8 to 16 hours per day with departures every 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the season, a schedule that requires travelers to consider the ferry schedule when making plans to meet a flight at the airport. This little ferry represents the means for evacuation of the 15,000 residents on the Ketchikan side in the event of a natural or terrorist emergency. Ketchikan was hit hard during the 1964 earthquake, for example. If the entire area depended on this ferry to get out it would take over 300 trips, assuming each vehicle was loaded with four or more people and the ferry was loaded to capacity each trip. There are no 18 wheelers that can bring in relief goods to the city on the ferry. So why did the local people establish a community at such a restrictive location? Ketchikan was established long before Alaska became a state. It’s citizens are never-the-less U.S. citizens just as those of Avalon, on Catalina Island, California, or residents of Dukes Island (Martha’s Vinyard) and Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. Nantucket only has about 3,000 residents. I wonder how much federal money has been poured into that economically exclusive area? Or what about the smaller island we know as Chappaquiddick?