In 1964, when I served on the new Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, we started reviewing growth trends and future traffic areas in Fairbanks. We wanted to remove the railroad crossings that created both traffic congestion and noise in the town.
We proposed realigning the system, taking the tracks south to where the Parks Highway now comes into Fairbanks and then along the Tanana River. The train depot would have been located near Fairbanks International Airport.
Yes, we thought about this almost 50 years ago!
I knew that this would take a decade or two to be realized, but we must think about our town’s development with regard for the generations that will come.
Back then, the federal government owned the railroad. After the state purchased the railroad from the federal government in 1985, the realignment plan was shelved as state and local politics came into play.
In 2008, our federal legislators thought a bridge over the Tanana River near Salcha would be ideal to help protect local military bases from future closures. It would allow the military to reach training grounds south of the Tanana year-round.
The state of Alaska then invested approximately $85 million to cover the estimated cost overruns that the federal appropriation hadn’t calculated.
Soon now, we will have a bridge going across the Tanana, accessing nothing. It will be closed on a permanent basis, with no one but the military allowed to use it.
Right bridge, wrong location.
This bridge should have been built across the Tanana River near the south end of South Cushman Street. Then a direct highway and rail track could have been constructed to Anderson on generally flat terrain, making transportation to Denali National Park and Southcentral Alaska faster, cheaper and much safer.
At the same time, this would have afforded the Army access to its training area on the south side of the Tanana River. It also could have opened up other areas for living, hunting and resource development.
Why do I bring this up now, after the bridge in Salcha is already under construction? Because one must think of development for Fairbanks in terms of generations, so we can avoid short-sighted projects such as this that are truly “bridges to nowhere.”
We need to elect people who have no self-interest or financial interest in local projects and who will not let development be redirected away from what our overall needs are.
Urban Rahoi was a member of the first Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, from 1964 to 1966, and has been an occasional candidate for various offices in the years since. He owns Ptarmigan Lake Lodge in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains near the Alaska-Canada border and is the former owner of Lakeview Terrace mobile home park in South Fairbanks. In the late 1960s, Robert Mitchell and Rahoi built the railroad track between the Fairbanks International Airport and Fort Wainwright out of their own pockets.