The Bridge Goes Nowhere New

Reporters are mining the offshoot stories of the Bridge to Nowhere, but to what end?

ProPublica has a detailed article about the $26 million construction of the Gravina Island Highway, the road that was supposed to lead to the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, even though Palin (as we all know) ultimately said “no thanks” to the bridge itself.

The fact checks on Sarah Palin’s statements about the Bridge to Nowhere were valuable because they called out the candidate’s false rhetoric. But exactly how much value is added in reporting the details of the Road to Nowhere (as the highway has been tagged) and the various construction alternatives being considered by the Alaskan Department of Transportation? Here are some of those details:

Alaska’s Department of Transportation is currently analyzing nine different alternatives (six bridges and three ferries), only one of which connects with the recently completed Gravina Island Highway. The only other proposed solution that would use a substantial portion of the road is a bridge with a price tag of about $254 million, said Malcolm Menzies, an Alaska DOT official. The alternatives range from a low cost estimate of $80 million for one of the ferry proposals to about $360 million, Menzies said. CLICK HERE for a map of the access road, the original “Bridge to Nowhere” design and the alternatives being considered by the DOT.

You heard that: nine different alternatives. (Which one’s the best choice for America?) An AP story similarly notes the details of a bridge being considered for construction in Wasilla:

A $600 million bridge and highway project to link Alaska’s largest city to Palin’s town of 7,000 residents is moving full speed ahead, despite concerns the bridge could worsen some commuting and threaten a population of beluga whales.

That deserves a reread: “…despite concerns the bridge could worsen some commuting and threaten a population of beluga whales.” More importantly (my emphasis): “A Democratic council member in Anchorage will try Tuesday to spike the city’s sponsorship of the project, which Palin supports with some reservations.” Somebody, alert the American public: Palin is such a frigging bridge supporter (with some reservations)!

The problem with these articles is, of course, not that they concern the details of Alaska’s transportation infrastructure; it’s what the details say, or in this case, don’t say about Palin the VP candidate. The articles are clearly meant to fit into the realm of the campaign (with detour to Alaska) beat, which means that the sole point of reporting them was to say or illustrate something new about Palin as she takes the national stage.

But for all its thoroughness, the ProPublica story doesn’t do that in any significant way. And the AP story, for its part, is just plain gimmicky. The Bridge to Nowhere was newsworthy not because earmarks are the campaign’s hot topic, but because Palin lied about her position on them. Hunting down other bridges in Alaska is kind of like getting mixed up about which trails are most important to sniff.

These stories feel off-point because they rely on superficial similarities (Bridge—now Road—to Nowhere; Another Bridge) to create their relevance to the campaign. Palin’s record in Alaska is worth investigating, and there are plenty of legitimate issues to dig into. But reporting on bridges for the sake of reporting on Palin just sort of seems like a road that’ll take the public nowhere new.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.