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How pet projects in Alaska became pet peeve on Hill

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Thomas Pease's flower-scented backyard might seem to be an odd place for a battle over federal spending. But the Government Hill neighborhood he calls home has become a front in the fight against pet projects in Congress.

That's because land just a block from Mr. Pease's home could be ripped apart if plans for a major bridge proceed. Officially, it's called the Knik Arm Crossing. But the US public knows it by a different name: the "bridge to nowhere." And ever since it drew headlines last fall, it's become a poster child for congressional earmarks.

Earmarks are items that lawmakers on Capitol Hill tuck into spending bills to fund projects back home. Supporters call it investment. Critics call it "pork." Both call it one of the biggest issues in American politics this year.

"I couldn't believe our little neighborhood fight was actually going national," says Pease, an elementary schoolteacher who opposes the bridge plan. "But I certainly thought the name was appropriate."

Actually, the "bridge to nowhere" refers to two bridges. One is the Knik Arm Crossing, which would connect Alaska's largest city with a little-used port on the other side of a glacier-fed channel that drains into the Pacific. The other is a span that would link Ketchikan, Alaska, to sparsely populated Gravina Island. They initially received earmarks of $231 million and $223 million in last year's transportation-funding bill.

The moniker resonated across the nation last fall and spurred a revolt – both in public and in the halls of Congress – against wasteful federal spending. "Those three words changed the view of millions of how we spend money on a federal level," says the man who coined the phrase, Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington watchdog group.

Spans divide Alaska
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