When Lois Epstein approached Gov. Sarah Palin during a July 2007 meeting, she says she had a simple request: pull the plug on the construction of a $26 million dead-end gravel road that she saw as a waste of federal money. The road was part of the $398 million project to link Ketchikan and its airport on Gravina Island known as the "Bridge to Nowhere," and an earmark inserted by Alaska's congressional delegation had provided the funding. But construction had begun in June, and it didn't seem to matter that the infamous bridge -- to which the road would have led -- would never be built. Every dollar spent on the project was a dollar wasted, Epstein thought.
Epstein, director of the nonpartisan Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, told ProPublica she handed Palin an editorial that had run the prior month in the Anchorage Daily News. The editorial, by Heritage Foundation fellow Ronald Utt, called the road a "wasteful" project with "little to no measurable benefit." It urged Palin to be "responsible and ethical" and "return the money to Washington" so it could be redirected to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi. Utt's piece reflected the consensus in Washington, D.C., and Alaska that no more money would be earmarked for the bridge project, which had become a symbol of pork-barrel spending.