Sarah Palin said at the RNC on September 4, 2008:
I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that Bridge to Nowhere.
This is a simple lie, that requires a bit of a complicated explanation. For a summary, click here to skip to the end.
The “Bridge to Nowhere” Palin referred to is either one of two bridges set to receive a series of earmarks designating $327 million. Both bridges connect sparsely populated islands with mainland Alaska. The earmarks were a part of a public law 109-59 signed into effect August 10, 2005 (see the earmarks here: search for “Knik” or “Gravina”). Subsequent legislation stripped the earmarks, though the funds remained allocated to Alaskan hands for use on relevant transportation projects. From the public law 109-3058 (section 186):
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any amounts made available pursuant to Public Law 109-59 for the Gravina Island bridge and the Knik Arm bridge shall be made available to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities for any purpose eligible under section 133(b) of title 23, United States Code: Provided, That in allocating funds for the equity bonus program under section 105 of such title, the Secretary shall make the calculations required under that section as if this section had not been enacted:
Provided further, That the descriptions for High Priority Projects #406, the Gravina Island bridge, and #2465, the Knik Arm bridge, in section 1702 of Public Law 109-59 are hereby deleted and in their place is inserted ‘the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’.
On November 30, 2005 President Bush signed the 109-3058 into law. At that point, the earmarks were gone and the funds designated for the bridge were generally released to Alaska for general transportation use.
On October 22, 2006, during her campaign for governor, Palin was asked:
Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?
Yes. I would like to see Alaska’s infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now - while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.
When Sarah Palin took office December 4, 2006 the once-earmarked “Bridge to Nowhere” funds were still designated to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Alaska could use the $327 million without restriction.
On September 21. 2007, Palin cancelled the Ketchikan bridge project, which is the bridge project most frequently referred to as the bridge to nowhere. From the office of the governor of Alaska [pdf]:
Governor Sarah Palin today directed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to look for the most fiscally responsible alternative for access to the Ketchikan airport and Gravina Island instead of proceeding any further with the proposed $398 million bridge.
Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island…
At that point the one of the two bridges called a “Bridge to Nowhere” was killed. The funds still remained allocated to Alaska, per US law, but with her executive order the state plan to build the bridge was ended. There is no record of Palin returning the $327 million that had been once designated through earmark in whole or part to the federal government.
The other bridge spanned the Knik Arm is still in the works. You can read their August 2008 newsletter for updates on the project. They are still in the planning phase for the actual bridge and the:
Mat-Su Borough begins $13 million worth of construction on the Point MacKenzie Road section of the project.
So one of the two “Bridges to Nowhere” is dead, and the other (less commonly referred to as a “bridge to nowhere”, but still historically bearing that title as evidenced here) is proceeding.
So to summarize:
On 8/10/2005 earmarks were included in a signed law dedicating $327 million to build two bridges in Alaska. On 11/30/2005 another law was signed, stripping those earmarks but preserving the funds for Alaska. On 9/21/2007, nearly 2 years after the earmarks had been removed, Palin closed the project down.
Palin could not have told Congress “Thanks, but no thanks” because Congress had already removed the earmarks before she was elected as governor. Given the money was already allocated to the state when she came to office, there’s no reason to think she would ever communicate with Congress on this matter in a formal capacity. In fact, the only government entity she told to cancel the project was Alaska’s own Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. And the state kept every penny of the $327 million.
It’s a complicated story, but Sarah Palin told an uncomplicated lie.
Update: This was unintentionally posted twice. That’s been corrected. Thanks for the catch.