ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
First, there was the bridge to nowhere, the famed Congressional project that would have spent close to half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds to build a bridge that only a few dozen people in Alaska needed. The project was championed by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, and a man who is now dogged by an FBI investigation into bribery allegations.
Under intense public pressure, the state eventually put the kavash(ph) on the bridge to nowhere, but now it seems Stevens had an alternate plan, call it ferry to nowhere.
USA Today reporter, Matt Kelley, found the item in the defense budget.
Mr. MATT KELLEY (Reporter, USA Today): Actually, there were two so-called bridges to nowhere and this would follow the same route as one of them. This is a route that connects Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which is across the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet from Anchorage.
SEABROOK: Now, it would make a trip that is now two and a half hours, 15 minutes, and this is a high-tech, super frenzy, new space-aged ferry worth $84 million?
Mr. KELLEY: That's correct. Well, actually, building the ferry itself, the Navy says, will cost about $58 million now. The rest of the money is for things like upgrading the Alaska shipyards to be able to handle such a high-tech project, as well as building roads and terminals and other infrastructure associated with the ferry project.
SEABROOK: You report that the Navy didn't actually want to build this ferry.
Mr. KELLEY: That's right. The Navy initially rejected a request from Lockheed Martin, the company that designed the ferry, to build the prototype of it. Lockheed then went to officials in Alaska and then Senator Stevens, through appropriations legislation, essentially ordered the Navy to build the ferry for Alaska.
SEABROOK: And we should point out that Ted Stevens' brother-in-law is a top lobbyist for Lockheed Martin.
Mr. KELLEY: That's correct. Bill Bittner lobbies for them on defense appropriations issues.
SEABROOK: But we also should say that it's not clear whether Ted Stevens has any personal interest in building some kind of access to this remote part of Alaska. And the argument is that a ferry would, in fact, spark development there and not just help the few people who live there now, and that that's a legitimate use of government money.
Mr. KELLEY: This is something that Ted Stevens often defense. He has brought literally billions of dollars worth of congressionally directed spending to his home state and he is very strong in arguing that his state deserves this kind of money because it's a relatively new state and very big place with a lot of needs for things that those of us here in the lower 48 take for granted.
SEABROOK: And so what effect might this ferry to nowhere - if it's fair to call that - have on Stevens and the ethics delegation swirling around them?
Mr. KELLEY: Well, that's unclear. One of the companies that might benefit from this ferry is VECO, the oil services company that is at the center of the corruption allegations in Alaska. Two top executives of VECO have pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers.
VECO has plans to build a large manufacturing facility at the port that would be served by this ferry once the ferry is operational. Well that ferry would be able to bring workers from Anchorage to that area much more quickly and safely than having to make a very long drive.
SEABROOK: Matt Kelley is a political and military reporter for USA Today. Thanks very much.
Mr. KELLEY: Thank you.
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