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How pet projects in Alaska became pet peeve on Hill

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Even in Alaska, which leads the nation in per-capita pork-barrel spending, locals were divided over the merits of the projects. In a December survey of Anchorage residents by pollster Ivan Moore, 46 percent opposed the Knik Arm Crossing, while 44 percent favored it. When told that the earmark was removed and that the state could spend the money on any transportation project, a stronger majority – 56 percent – wanted to use the money elsewhere. "It's obviously not a high priority," Mr. Moore says.

Supporters defend the bridge as economically vital to Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the fastest-growing district in Alaska. Alaska has as much right to a large bridge as any other state, they say.

"The Golden Gate was a bridge to nowhere. Mackinac back in Michigan was a bridge to nowhere,'" says former Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch, chairman of the state-funded Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, the organization overseeing bridge plans. "This is not a bridge to nowhere. These are the two fastest-growing populations of this state."

Alaska's veteran Sen. Ted Stevens (R), a legend for his ability to funnel federal funds home, has argued that critics fail to grasp the bridge's historic mission.

"What they forget was that in the Western movement of the country, if the people who were paying the taxes at that time said it was wasteful to build roads to the West we would have never had the West," he told Anchorage reporters last year, as criticism of the bridges crescendoed.

Proponents, who hope the Knik Arm Crossing will be built by 2010, say it will open up new, lower-cost land needed for development. Already, speculators have started buying property on the other side of Knik Arm, where the bridge is expected to deliver traffic.

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