There are many places that have been labeled a "[Name You Favorite Transportation Infrastructure] to Nowhere" either to reference an abandoned site or to flag an improvement that seems to benefit an unusually small constituency. I’ll mention two rather well-known instances briefly while intentionally ignoring the political issues involved as the gory details aren’t particularly important to this article. I’ll then focus a larger portion of my attention on something I stumbled upon recently by happenstance.
Bridge to Nowhere
View Larger Map
This designation came to great prominence in 2005 when Congress considered an appropriation of more than $300 million for the Gravina Island Bridge across the Tongass Narrows. The bridge would have provided a direct connection between Ketchikan, Alaska on Revillagigedo Island with its airport on Gravina Island. Residents had been using a ferry service that ran every 15-30 minutes.
The Gravina Island Bridge was not funded after a considerable public outcry. It wasn’t the most cost-effective solution for the 8,900 residents of Ketchikan.
There are other “bridges to nowhere” including those located in:
- New Zealand (built in anticipation of roads never constructed)
- Arizona (replaced by another bridge)
- Scotland (intended to link to a structure never built)
Airport to Nowhere
View Larger Map
As I write this article in December 2010, the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Pennsylvania handles three scheduled commercial airline arrivals and departures each day. It is a participant in the Essential Air Service (EAS), a government program designed to subsidize flights to communities that would otherwise lose commercial air service in a deregulated environment.
The airport is rather sensitive about the label and offers an explanation.
Highway to Nowhere
View Larger Map
I discovered an odd little spur in Illinois as I examining Interstate Highways to search for corner-cutting segments. The label said Interstate 180 and it led mysteriously to a tiny corner along the Illinois River. Hennepin seems like a nice enough place but what distinguishes this village of 700 people from thousands of other settlements with similar populations? Why do they have a 13-mile magic carpet ride to the outside world while others travel along country lanes?
It had nothing to do with the fine people of Hennepin as far as I could determine. I’m sure they deserve good things although perhaps not their own personalized Interstate spur. The justification used at the time, the late 1960’s, focused on an alternate purpose: a steel mill and rolling plant. One hears about "Interstate Highways" but the complete name is actually the "Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways." Steel is a vital military component that needs to be transported along defense highways in times of war.
Are you satisfied with that explanation? I’m not. All manner of well-maintained state and county roads radiate from Hennepin and exit onto nearby Interstate highways. It’s not like these lightly-traveled rural byways would completely choke with traffic during national emergencies. Google Maps estimates an 18-minute trip from Hennepin to Interstate 80 via I-180 and a 23-minute trip to Interstate 39 via State Route 71. The spur saves five minutes.
This isn’t a secret or a surprise. Kurami.com’s 3-digit interstate highways page examined the situation and provided a great explanation (source citations are available on the Kurami page):
I-180 was added to the Interstate system on Jan. 25, 1967; and opened in the fall of 1969. In 1970, a study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that I-180 was constructed to satisfy the demands of a steel company (Jones & Laughlin) looking to locate a plant in Hennepin. By objective criteria, more important routes in Tacoma and Tucson were turned down at the same time I-180 was approved. "No other interstate route has been constructed primary to serve a private manufacturing company, and no other interstate spur serves an area with such a small population," the GAO said. Another surprise: the $44M freeway’s cost per mile was about four times the prevailing rate at the time.
The mill closed soon thereafter, reopened in 2002 and closed once again in 2009, passing through a variety of different owners along the way. The Illinois Department of Transportation considers I-180 the least traveled interstate in the state. It is covered by only 2,000 vehicles daily. There are vague plans to connect this with a four-lane road to Peoria but until then it will continue to serve as a highway to nowhere.
There are lots of X’s to Nowhere. Which one is your favorite?