Bridge to Nowhere

The “Bridge to Nowhere” or the Gravina Access Project in Alaska, USA gained prominence in the US political scene during the 2008 presidential election cycle.  Although it has already become “a symbol of government pork” a few years earlier.1 The stated purpose of this $233 million project is to connect a town of 8000 people with the “region’s international airport”.2  At first glance, this seems a reasonable infrastructure project.  Many areas of Alaska rely upon air transportation where they are not accessible by roads.  Similar to other road and bridge projects, this should improve access of the residents.  

However, upon further investigation, it also became clear why it was singled out as “government pork”.  The airport is situated on an island with a population of 50.   There is also an existing ferry that connects the island.  The ferry trip is only 15 minutes.  Eventually, when the bridge project was cancelled under pressure, a $23 million ferry improvement project was proposed instead.3

There are other examples of transportation projects that have different sets of purposes.  The stated purposes are usually to improve accessibility of the nearby cities, towns or other settlements.  Improved accessibility, in turn, are supposed to bring more people to either contribute to the local economy, or make the locale more likely to attract residents. However, whether the project actually fulfil its purpose is depended on many economic and political factors.

Ciudad Real is a town south of Madrid, Spain.  The airport was built during Spain’s construction boom.  It “has a capacity for 2.5 million passengers per year” and is thought to be an alternative to the airport in Madrid.  The project had private investors because it had support from the government during a time of prosperity.  The government supported it because it was supposed to bring jobs to the region and more people to the town. The project cost more than €1bn. 4  

The airport was opened in 2008 during the economic crisis and eventually closed in 2012. There was also a change in the regional government from when the project was conceived to when it was completed.  The new regional government considered it “wasteful” and was no longer willing to support it.  Eventually, it was sold at bankruptcy auction for €10000. 5 


Another type of large infrastructure projects are purpose-built cities.  China has a large inventory of such state sponsored building projects, including cities, roads, bridges, railways, etc.  With the largest population in the world, these projects could, in theory, alleviate issues in housing and transportation congestion.  However, many of these infrastructure are not built where the people are.  Many cities are left empty with empty roads arrayed around them.  Although these project might have already fulfilled part of their purpose if the purpose was to provide jobs.  And these empty places may yet be filled.  Either due to continued population pressures in the existing cities or by government mandate.7

China is by no means the only country to have purpose-built cities.  Burma’s capital of Naypyidaw is another such.  6a28a90e-b256-4476-afda-db400e733f14-2060x12368

This city has many modern amenities.  The above pictured is “a 14-lane highway in the centre” of the city, along with other large multi-lane roadways within and around the city that can support a large amount of vehicular traffic.   It also has many large government buildings and leisure facilities for its residents.  But many of these residents are “civil servants who have been ordered to move” to the capital.  Many of them also cannot afford the amenities and leisure facilities available.

These large transportation infrastructures do not necessarily support the typical purpose of increasing mobility and access for the people living near them.  In many cases, there are no or few people living near them.  Instead they are built to provide jobs, provide a focus for capital infusion and provide symbols of prosperity.

1. Henig, Jess. 2008. “Bridge To Nowhere”. Factcheck.Org.

2. Dinan, Stephen. 2015. “Alaska Kills ‘Bridge To Nowhere’ That Helped Put End To Earmarks”. The Washington Times.
3. Quinn, Steve, 2015. “Alaska’s ‘bridge to nowhere’ plan finally scrapped”. Reuters.
4. Harter, Pascale. 2012. “The White Elephants That Dragged Spain Into The Red – BBC News”. BBC News.
5. “Spain’s Ciudad Real Airport Sold At Auction For €10,000 – BBC News”. 2015. BBC News.
6. “”
7. Raposa, Kenneth. 2015. “Forbes Welcome”. Forbes.Com.
9.Kennard, Matt and Claire Provost. 2015. “Burma’s Bizarre Capital: A Super-Sized Slice Of Post-Apocalypse Suburbia”. The Guardian.

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