Former U.S. Senator and Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski visited Ketchikan Wednesday, and spoke at the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon about a proposed tunnel to link the larger community of Ketchikan to the airport on Gravina Island.

Murkowski said that Ketchikan should start looking for an alternative to the bridge idea, in part because of the negative publicity that the bridge received through politicians and the national media.

“The history of that goes a little further because a former governor, Gov. Palin, it’s certainly no secret, committed to support the bridge but later when she became governor, she supported moving the money into the Interior,” he said. “There was a need, a tremendous need for it in the Palmer-Wasilla highway area, and as a consequence, the population of the Railbelt area prevailed on the politics of the issue, and the money was moved, and it moved into that area. So the prospects of getting another appropriation of the magnitude necessary, and as you know, these things escalate in cost all the time, so $330-million or thereabout bridge a few years ago may be $400 or $450 (million) now. In any event: Is there a practical alternative?”

He said one possibility is an 1,800-foot submerged tube made of concrete and steel sections, connected with watertight rubber seals and secured with a rock layer on top. A chart Murkowski distributed at the luncheon shows the tunnel starting just south of Peninsula Point on Revillagigedo Island, and ending at Lewis Point on Gravina, less than a mile north of the airport.

“I’ve had an opportunity to review the history of these,” he said. “It’s not a new concept. It’s been around for about a hundred years. There are numerous tunnels in the United States. I’m not going to go through a lot of detail here on the specifics, but I did want to assure you that it’s not something that needs an awful lot of new evaluation. In Europe there are 48 tunnels, in North America, there are 27, in Japan there are 20, East Asia and Japan has nine, and there’s other areas around the world with about four.”

Murkowski said to construct such a tunnel, a V-shaped trench is dredged and graded. Sections of the tunnel, which he said could be built at the Ketchikan Shipyard, then would be floated over the area, sunk and positioned into place. Murkowski said the rubber seals would connect each section.

Murkowski asked what the attitude was toward an alternative to the bridge concept.

“Do you wanna go back and roll the dice on the bridge again? In my opinion, the prospects of that are pretty remote,” he said. “First of all, it’s gotten such national publicity that most politicians want to stay as far away from voting on ‘bridges to nowhere’ as possible. The question is, is it a project that deserves support by your delegation and the governor, and your local representatives and, if so, how do you start a process?”

Murkowski said that if there were support for such a project in Ketchikan, the community would need to work together with state and federal officials to fund a feasibility study. He said a tunnel can be less expensive than a bridge, but the cost wouldn’t be known until after the study.