Juneau road advocates were disappointed Wednesday after the capital budget documents were posted online and they discovered the Juneau Access project has indeed been gutted.
The $47 million that had been set aside for 50 miles of highway access to the capital has been more than halved, with money being sent to other projects outside of the district — places as far away as Kivalina, which is 1,128 miles away by air.
The compromise in the draft capital budget reflects a “live to fight another day” strategy by Senate Republican-led majority.
It also reflects a split in the Democrat-led House and the weakness of Rep. Justin Parish to stand up to his fellow Democrats and fight for the road. Instead, downtown Juneau Democrat Rep. Sam Kito won the day, and forced Parish to back down on the road.
Parish could have offered an amendment to preserve the road fund intact, but when time came to act, he acquiesced. House Democrats refused to support him.
“It’s safe to say that if Cathy Munoz was still Juneau’s representative, she would not have allowed this to happen,” said one road advocate, who requested anonymity.
Munoz was beat by Parish in the 2014 election after Democrats targeted her for removal. Kito was appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell and represents a Democrat-dominated district in Juneau.
With Parish’s election, the Juneau delegation is now represented by two no-road representatives. Parish, who said during his election campaign that he didn’t think the road was justified, flipped his position after becoming a legislator, but has not fought effectively for the road, which many in his more moderate district want.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR THE ROAD?
The Juneau Access project is not dead, but raiding the fund bodes poorly for its survival next year, when funds will be needed just to keep certain costly transportation programs going — such as the Alaska Marine Highway System, which will run out of reserve funds to draw on. Just $21 million will remain in the fund after the 2018 capital budget is passed.
With less than half of the money remaining, the highway to Juneau will live or die by the next gubernatorial election, as Gov. Walker has also thrown in his decision to support the no-road Democrats.
If the fund sits unused for another approximately four years, it will eventually “term out.”
THE PROJECTS THAT GOT THE MONEY
While Juneau is the loser in the capital budget, the winners included Skagway and Kivalina. The compromise takes $4.43 million of the Juneau Access project and awards it to Kivalina for a K-12 school replacement for 136 students. The capital budget takes $21.3 million of the Juneau Access project and awards it to other projects in Lynn Canal, such as a ferry dock in Skagway.