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Alaska expected to cover Knik Arm bridge project shortfall

Consultants on the billion-dollar Knik Arm bridge project were pretty clear Thursday the financial plan for the bridge is for the state to foot the bill for any difference between how much money is collected in tolls and how much the private developer will be paid.

"Any difference between tolls and the (developer's) payment -- that is made up by the state," said Grant Holland, vice president for Wilbur Smith Associates, which did the traffic forecast for the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority.

KABATA officials want an initial $150 million from the state to create a reserve for expected shortfalls in the first few years the bridge is open. Bridge authority chairman Michael Foster said in a Thursday interview that KABATA traffic forecasts show the toll revenue should at that point be enough to refill the reserve but if not, the Legislature would be asked for more.

The question is whether the Legislature will agree to put the state on the hook for a project that had earlier been pitched as not requiring any more state government money. Wasilla Sen. Linda Menard did introduce a bill this spring to give the initial $150 million in state money for the project, as well as another bill to make bridge financial obligations into "obligations of the state." The bills didn't pass this year but will be considered in the upcoming legislative session.

Holland and an executive from Citigroup discussed the project Thursday with the technical advisory committee for AMATS, the city-state planning board for Anchorage transportation projects. At least some of the committee members were skeptical of the project and irritated that no one from the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority was there to answer questions.

KABATA chief financial officer Kevin Hemenway attended the first 20 minutes but left, citing a commitment.

The committee members said they need details on the financial plan for the bridge because it is a requirement of the Federal Highway Administration for projects included in AMATS' long-term plan. They plan to ask Hemenway to come back next week.

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