September 23, 2008

"Road To Nowhere"

Posted: 05:00 PM ET

She said, “thanks, but no thanks,” to a “Bridge to Nowhere,” so, why didn’t Gov. Sarah Palin say, “thanks, but no thanks,” to a $26 million “Road to Nowhere?”

Here’s some background: At one point, there was supposed to be a bridge that would make it easier for people who live or visit Ketchikan, Alaska to get to nearby Gravina Island, where the airport sits. The bridge was never built, after it was publicly ridiculed by Congress as being a waste of taxpayer money.But the road that was designed to connect from the bridge to the airport was built. Now, many locals coined it the “Road to Nowhere.” And guess who paid for it? You! 


But what’s really interesting is the response we received from the McCain Palin camp about this road.  I interviewed Meg Stapleton, a spokesperson for the campaign. Here is part of that interview:

Boudreau: “It’s hard to imagine that the governor wouldn't think that this was a waste of money – taxpayer money.”

Stapleton: “The governor could not change that earmark. That earmark was given, was dictated to us, and it had to be spent on Gravina Road – and nothing else. So, the governor had no option.”
Boudreau: “Could she [Palin] have stopped construction?”

Stapleton: “Uh, my understanding is that, you know, I'd have to look in to that for you. I don't know.”

In this interview, Stapleton told me there was nothing the governor could do in this case. She went on to try to explain who would be to blame for this road that leads absolutely nowhere. Here’s what she said:

Stapleton:  “She had no opportunity to evaluate this. The contracts were already signed and she was told she had no option but to use this money for Gravina Road.”

Boudreau:  “Who told her that?”

Stapleton:  “The state D.O.T officials.”

Boudreau:  “Wow. I would have thought the governor could trump the D.O.T.”

Stapleton:  “Well, they're interpreting. Ultimately, it's the federal government, you’re dealing with federal earmark dollars. So, ultimately it's the federal government.”


About two hours after our on-camera interview, I received an email from Meg Stapleton that further explains Palin’s position. Here are a couple of excerpts from that email:


Gravina Road

 Unlike the “Bridge to Nowhere,” the Governor could not cancel this road project. While Congress released the earmark for the bridge, the road was still earmarked by Washington, DC.
 It would have literally taken an act of Congress to redirect the funds away from the road project.   Even that extraordinary step would have come too late as a contract had already been signed by the previous Governor.

 To stop construction on the road would have meant for the State to pay back costs incurred by the Contractor as well as a portion of future profits.

 Bottom line: Under ordinary circumstances, Governor Palin would not have allowed the Gravina Road to move forward with the same timeline. Given the directed earmark and the signed contract, the Governor was left no viable alternative.

Here’s my question: Why is the federal earmark system set up in a way that it would prevent a governor from re-directing earmark money when the project doesn’t make any sense? And in this case, do you think Gov. Palin could have done more to stop this project from getting started?


Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Uncategorized

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Russell E. Clark   September 24th, 2008 1:58 pm ET

Importantly, Abbie needs to continue her inquiry about whether a state's Governor (any Governor) has the inherent power to stop an earmark when the larger (and original) earmark (i.e. for the bridge) had been deleted/pulled/canceled, etc. It would seem that in such an event (i.e. cancellation of the original larger project) that all parties would/could agree that continuation of an adjunct building project (the access road to the waterfront/bridge area) was no longer rational. There is a general principle here that needs further investigation and discussion.

Russ Clark in Phoenix

Holly (a former resident of AK)   September 24th, 2008 2:31 pm ET

uh, no offense, but that's kind of a dumb question. The earmark system is set up so that the people they're sending the money to don't abuse the system. Granted, the system is broken when congress approves such ridiculous projects in the first place; but it's set up so that the local gov't they're giving the money to can't just decide to spend it elsewhere.

As for Palin being able to stop the project, it sounds as if she could have, but the cost would have been pretty high to the State of Alaska. If you cancel a project, you don't get the earmarked money from congress. If the contracts have already been signed, the contractors will still need to be paid. That money has to come from somewhere and Alaskans are notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to public projects.

Keep in mind, Palin's predecessor ran for office on the promise that he'd have the federal gov't pay to pave roads to all of the cities in Alaska that are currently only accessible by plane.

Jake   September 24th, 2008 2:40 pm ET

"Bridge to Nowhere" was built before Sarah Palin stepped into office. Fine! The earrmark was passed at the time by the two democratic picks to help residents of Alaskians to get a road to the bridge. However, the bridge proposal came to an end which means the road proposal should have been tied with it and the money should not have been wasted. However, Palin did not decide to fail the plan because she thought that the free tax payer money should have been wasted on a road to no where. She should have done the right job to have not built it than built it becasue it was a proposal before my time. The democratic picks would be equally in fault if they knew this road was indeed going to no where. Or if they agreed to cast their vote on a road which should indeed help creating a bridge is another story. Which makes Palin's judgement for not stopping the proposal "poor".

Jim   September 24th, 2008 2:55 pm ET

This episode (along with her Wasilla skating rink fiasco) points to the total inability of Palin to perform the duties of President (yes, President because being able to take over as President is her only job besides breaking ties in the Senate) as it's clear she can't make any intelligent executive decisions regarding state or town operations. She's had to make very few actual executive decisions in her short political career and she screws them up. Why does anybody even think that she should be elected?

Melodie   September 24th, 2008 3:35 pm ET

Road to knowwhere to go with the bridge to knowwhere. GREAT JOB PALIN-NOT. this is just one of the many reans why Palin does not talk to the Media. She has to be told what to say. Why-McCain is SEXIEST!!!!

Easy, McCain is sexiest!!!!
Why you may ask?
Because if he was not he’d know Palin could handle her own. He;s SEXIEST I tell you, trying to protect a women in todays society,. What are we living in the 1800 where women could not but rather would not protect themselves.
Try that on for size.

Peter Wurzburger   September 24th, 2008 5:34 pm ET

I think the reporter missed a timeline inconsistency
The bridge came first but Palin stopped it, the road came second from redirected bridge money but she was not in office to stop it.
How is it possible that the bridge she stopped came before a later event (road) that she was too late into office to stop?

Corey Peratrovich   September 24th, 2008 5:43 pm ET

Being from Ketchikan, Alaska, I did not want to "Road to No where or the Bridge to No where." We have had the ferry take us from island to island for many many years and I felt that it is sufficiant enough. Yes we do pay a 'toll' but that is something I do not have a problem with. The bridge would have to re-direct ferry routes as well as cruise ship traffic and honestly I think that the ferry is another touch of charector the small city has to offer. And Mr.Cooper if you would like I can give you a personal tour of Ketchikan or Juneau, just let me know in advance...I love your show...I love the realism and we just adore you here in Alaska. Very Respectfully Corey Peratrovich.....also if you like check out the history of the Peratrovich name, Elizabeth was my great aunt.

KM   September 24th, 2008 5:57 pm ET

After looking at the maps of where the bridge to nowhere would have been built, seems logical that a bridge and a road would be eventually needed to get to that airport. Granted, there doesn't seem to be a lot of folks living around that area at the moment. Too bad that this got into the limelight, as I'm sure the residence of Ketchikan would like to drive to their airport. Seems the issue is more about the location of the airport and whether a bridge and road access to the island was part of the budget to build the airport to begin with.

Given the magnitude of goverment spending on many different types of projects, I think the bridge and road to nowhere flaps are insignificant. Lets talk about the bailout to nowhere for a price of $700B! Yes, the earmark system is in need of reform but I don't blame SP for excesses or bad judgement in this case. I would rather hear SP's thoughts on the financial mess that we find ourselves in at the moment.

sean   September 24th, 2008 5:59 pm ET


Sounds like you are a little bitter. Did the McCain campaign tell you "thanks, but no thanks" ? If you actually lived in Ketchikan and you understood the background and history behind the entire project, at least you would be qualified to comment. Obviously you do not live in Ketchikan, AK so I would suggest contacting someone who does to have them explain it to you without the media spin.
By the way, I am NOT a PALIN supporter, but I do like to read comments that have some substance to offer the reader. Channel your anger Melodie and next time maybe you will make at least a little sense to the rest of us readers.

Max in Phoenix, AZ   September 24th, 2008 6:07 pm ET

I like how it's such a large issue surrounding Palin and hasn't been able to come out and nationally explain what happened and put it behind her. Instead her aides have been talking for her and their lack of answers or even anything (i.e."Uh, my understanding is that, you know, I’d have to look in to that for you. I don’t know.") leads me to believe they aren't breifed on much of anything and really don't know what they're talking about OR they know the story and are told not to tell the truth.

Either way, it's tough for me to vote for a McCain-Palin ticket that has so many underlying issues that both of them seem to be trying to silence with the election day coming up. I'd rather not have another repeat of the current Bush-Cheney administration where we find out the facts AFTER it's already happened. I realize the Obama-Bidden ticket isn't perfect either, but at least they seem to be open about answering question surrounding the issues that are brought up regarding their political decisions.

It's too bad our country has become a two party race where you have to vote Republican or Democrat in order to feel like your vote counted. It makes me wonder if we'll ever see the day where three or four parties have canidate making a legitimate run for the presidency.

Kimm G./Galloway, Oh   September 25th, 2008 4:35 pm ET

You said she has executive decision making powers? You said she has taken on her own party and stood up for wasteful government spending? Okay, now correct me if I'm wrong, could she have made an "Executive Decision" not to continue with the project? and even if she had to pay the contractor, it would not have cost as much as the entire project. Services and fees just do not work that way.

Jim Rapp   September 25th, 2008 6:44 pm ET

A question I have yet to see asked is why was a road engineered and built to connect to a bridge a very precise point on the shore of Gravina Island when as I understand it up to 6 bridge location/route alternatives (plus a couple of enhanced ferry service alternatives) are still officially being evaluated – only one of which is anywhere near the terminus of the "Road to Nowhere"

carol cairnes   September 27th, 2008 1:26 am ET

I believe Palin is having trouble answering questions about this bridge issue because she doesn't really understand it. It goes back to Don Young's time as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Remember the Coconut Grove Interstate Highway interchange in Florida? He's under investigation for that. He was the one who first appropriated money for a vanity project that has never been and never will be right for this location. What was being proposed was building a bridge across the Tongass Narrows, the source of the economy of Ketchikan. Not only is it a major navigational waterway of the Inside Passage that allows the world's largest cruise ships to come in one end and out the other, stopping in our little town of Ketchikan, but the Tongass Narrows waterway is the busiest general aviation runaway in the country during the summer months with thousands of floatplane take offs and landings all the long days of summer in Alaska. That tourist traffic is the main economy of Ketchikan and any bridge across the Tongass Narrows would end it all. The $35 million Gravina Access Project Report clearly spells that out. But Don Young, Alaska's only Congressman and Frank Murkowski, former Alaska U. S. Senator, who was also Governor of Alaska for one term before Sarah Palin, had to have this project to pay political debts. I believe Ted Stevens only agreed to support the project to get Young's and Murkowski's support for improvements to the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. A quid pro quo, party loyalty and so forth.

This brings it to Abbie's question: Why is the federal earmark system set up in a way that it would prevent a governor from re-directing earmark money when the project doesn’t make any sense? Part of the answer lies in the hegemony of the federal highway system and the auto industry. The Interstate Highway system has led, not only to an enormous amount of corruption in our government, but also to the neglect of other transportation options like rail and ship that we now wish we could catch up on. And the saddest part about it is that it's only for new construction, never maintenance. Our old bridges fall into the Mississippi River during rush hour.

Congress removed the earmark from the money, but still gave it to Alaska to spend on what ever the Governor (Murkowski at the time) wanted to spend it on. I believe Murkowski thought that if he built a section of the road leading from the airport it would force the next Governor to continue the project. It also didn't escape him that the 3.2 miles of road runs to within a 1/4 mile of some property his family owns on Gravina. But Governor Palin has her own bridge project, the Knik Arm Bridge which would shorten the distance between Anchorage and Wasilla. That where the money goes. The Knik Arm Bridge has an Authority with a lot of cushy seats for political appointments by the Governor for years to come whether a bridge ever gets built across that non-navigable waterway.

The ferry options are really the only ones that make sense for the situation in Ketchikan. When the airport was built on Gravina Island (and there are very good reasons why it was built where it is, but I won't try to explain them here) the ferry should have been made part of it and funded by the state from the beginning. Walk-on passengers should not have to pay a toll to ride the ferry from the airport. If the Governor wants to do the right thing she would apply the funding to the ferry.

Jason, Rochester Hills, MI   September 28th, 2008 9:41 am ET

I wonder where all of her executive experience was when this one came across her desk. She is trying to tell people she is a reformer. I want to know why she could not reform that earmark back toward the national debt like she should have. Why? Because she did not want to give the money back. If she was all she says she is, and had all of this knowledge and influence she says she does...where was it when MY MONEY was going toward a bridge AND road I will never see nor get use of?

She is a liar and is misrepresenting herself to Americans.

Expose her for what she is!

Quan Tranh   September 28th, 2008 11:35 am ET

I think what we can walk away with is that the Federal system is broken. Unfortunately when dealing with contractors, they still expect to be paid whether or not the work is done. This is contrary to Kim G.'s comment above that canceling a contract is cheaper than going through with it. All of my contracts expect payment in full from the customer after they sign, even if they decide the services they purchased no longer fit their needs. They're waiving their right to the product/service, but I'm not waiving my right to get paid.

I don't see this issue being fixed in our current form of government. Federal rules always override state rules. The Civil War was fought over this very concept. If you don't want Washington to spend your money for you and then ram it down your governor's throats, then you need to revisit a Confederacy or a very limited Federation. America is very much a dictatorship from Washington with the 50 governors having little say in what goes on.

Eileen   September 28th, 2008 4:22 pm ET

If I am correct, Sarah Palin stated that she kept whatever money was gotten from the Bridge to Nowhere and used it for the infrustructure of Alaska. She stated this during the Charlie Gibson interview.

I do not know if she meant this road, however she did answer the question a few weeks ago.


Jennifer, Rochester NY   September 28th, 2008 6:49 pm ET

A Governor should not be discouraged from going back to Congress over the potential waste of $26million dollars.

Nor should a state be penalized for returning the money. These kinds of behaviors are what undermine a system that was originally established to streamline smaller budget requests by "tagging" them on to larger budget plans that they are tied directly to. But the size of earmarks has gotten out of hand, and that has driven greed among state officials who get their hands on them. They don't want to give them back, because they know it will decrease their chances of getting them next time around.

That said, if Palin sees herself as such a "maverick" and a devout government reformer, why didn't she seize the opportunity to fight for what was right, vs. what was already in motion?

This past week, we've seen many members of our Congress (lead by her own party; House Republicans) stop the Bail Out Plan from passing by refusing to just do "business as usual". I ask you, if Sarah Palin was actively involved in those negotiations, do you believe she would have stood up first? I don't think so. Not on Capital Hill. Not surrounded by strategically savvy senators and congress men and women and insightful media correspondents who, we've now seen, are incredibly intimidating to her. If she couldn't stand up and stop her own state from making an economic mistake as large as the "Road to Nowhere", how would she ever stand up as VP, or even President, to what we're going through now?

I don't believe Palin is a devout reformer. I believe she is a hungry politician, who picks and chooses her battles of "reform" not based on what's best for her town, her state, or, ultimately her country... but what will ultimately shape her personal record.

JR   September 28th, 2008 7:41 pm ET

Leadership: I don’t believe it’s defined as taking the path of least resistance and then pretending you led the charge toward a "popular" decision. Regardless of the person in the position of Governor at the time, the bridge funding would have, with 99% certainty, have been stopped. A leader doesn't take credit for other's decisions, but would have found creative ways to divert the other $26M (for the road) to the benefit of the Contractors (positive PR), Congress (intelligent flexibility) and the residents of Alaska or the U.S.

Integrity: I don’t believe it’s defined as telling the portion of the story that personally benefits you while committing the "sin of omission" for the "less attractive", self-serving decisions you made.

We don't need perfect leaders. However, when we observe people such as Ms. Palin, benefitting from duplicity, deceit and the cowardliness to fully discuss these decisions while reaping the rewards of the positive spin-side, we further entrench poor values into our culture; particularly our youth. This not only encourages the wrong behavior and avoidance of accountability, but weakens our social fabric, one unprincipled thread at a time.

Could See Russia From My House   September 28th, 2008 8:54 pm ET

Absolutely, Yes! She could stop this before it gets started.

jbpeek   September 28th, 2008 10:20 pm ET

She's perfect.. got the same Bush swagger; the same resolve; the same unwavering belief in their opinions.

We've had 8 years of an ex-governor whose grasp of foreign affairs was, for lack of a better phrase, beyond his grasp. Can the United States, which at the start of Bush's first term was, the "pre-eminent" power in the world, really afford another uninformed candidate who will be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

I’m sure Governor Palin is an outstanding leader of Alaska. But, as George Bush has so aptly proved, the Office of the Presidency requires an individual who stands heads and shoulders above their fellow Americans, not just someone who we'd enjoy hunting caribou our mountain biking with.

jbpeek   September 28th, 2008 10:44 pm ET

Interesting... the whole world will be watching to see if Governor Palin can memorize her cue cards to prepare for the Thursday night debate.

The big question is: Thursday night, will we see the "barracuda" or a "caribou in headlights".

T. Clark   October 5th, 2008 2:00 pm ET

Putting aside the 'for it until against it' rhetoric, Joe Biden did one thing Sarah Palin never did, he voted for it.

On another common theme, 'The Bush Doctrine', why so little of the fact that if there's a current Bush Doctrine, it's the principle that it's America's position that all countries in the world have a right to liberty. The preemptive right is just one of a selection of possible 'doctrines', eg. to countries harboring terrorist, 'you either with us or the terroists', or our position on Kyoto, etc. In my view, none reach the level of a Monroe or Truman Doctrine and it escapes me as to the significance placed on it, politics, I guess.

pat   October 5th, 2008 4:22 pm ET

Why doesn't Abbie Boudreau ask an Obama spokes person about the senators $750,000,000 in earmark requests since being a senator, for 2 years! That's $1,027,000 each day in office! I don't think you can drive on any of the projects he requested. Then she would see how the democrats handle "gotcha" questions and report to us readers where THEY draw the line. Nothing like being fair.

maria   October 10th, 2008 4:47 am ET

i think that probably the costs of paying the contractors for expenses already taken, would have been less costly than 26 million dollars.

Gene Venable   October 13th, 2008 12:37 am ET

I don't think the federal government can force a state to accept money like this. What if money was allocated for abortions? Would Palin have accepted the money? I doubt it.

Annie   October 19th, 2008 7:17 pm ET

The reason we elect people to represent us is to have them make choices we can't make. So of course Palin should have stopped the road to nowhere. Or was it leading to the White House?

Midwest   October 19th, 2008 10:28 pm ET

For me to believe that Gov. Palin, the reformer, the maverick, the "goes by the beat of her own drummer" politician, couldn't stop the "Road to nowhere" I'd either have to be stupid or blinded by her greatness.

I don't and I'm not either one of those.

Nice try Palin. Just keep digging that hole of righteousness and spin. The only people who buy it are the same ones that believe you have foreign policy experience because you live next to Russia.

Please. You are killing us.

GARY   October 25th, 2008 2:19 pm ET

October 25th, 2008 1:14 pm ET

How is it that Obama can run illegally. He is deffently not a born U.S. citizen.That is the main thing running for President. I believe this race has been illegal from the begining ,vote frauds and all.I have read the federal laws and you deffently have to be born a U.S. citizen to run. Obama was born in Kenya and adopted Indoniesia.Does this country change the contitution and federal laws for this certain canidate. This is illegal as hell.If this is the case a terroist could come over here in run.Thats an example. I think Obama should be suspened and HRC should be legally the nominee.This is all wrong.CNN is covering alot of illegal corruptions that Obama is in.

anonymous coward   October 25th, 2008 9:41 pm ET

Forgot to answer your other question.... Yes Palin could have done more.. she could have handcuffed herself to a bulldozer in protest! Not sure what else would have worked against the power of the federales.

Cris   November 14th, 2008 12:24 pm ET

Stop negative campaign on Ladys like Sarah Palin..she is Simply Great and wnderful lady with Confidence and Power? How many among us have that??.

Stop jokes on Her..stop personal attacks on her...
She is Limelight like Hillary clinton.
Sarah Palin has more attraction and can impress any kind of person..
She is simply great

Cris   November 14th, 2008 12:34 pm ET

Sarah palin is simply Fabulous Lady .
She is extreamly talented with multitasking.listen to her Speach in Campaign.It was better than Obama.
Every one should have guts to accept that she is capable.Probably female candidates are really cannot tolerate other women to be successful.
She is awesome and people should get inspired and she can Impress any level.

Anee   November 14th, 2008 12:43 pm ET

Start looking at Michalle Obama..she to buys Cloths which are costlier than Palin. But still Michelle don't look good..that's where African Americans start shootng her personal issues.
American Africans ,can not tolerate people who r competing them or Who are againest to them.
That's why we and where we had to vote them.
Every one should accept this.

swergorinee   March 4th, 2009 6:53 pm ET

Excellent site and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here: this .. as it's taken me literally 3 hours and 56 minutes of searching the web to find you (just kidding!) so I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor :)

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