Juneau has jumped through every hoop
Back in the late 1960s, the road north out of Juneau ended at Eagle River, and it was washboard gravel much of the way. Forty miles to north was as far as you’d drive before hitting “The End.”
Before that, it dead-ended at Auke Bay, where the ferry terminal was eventually located after being moved from downtown in the 1970s.
Being stuck in Juneau during the many weather delays at the Juneau International Airport wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. A week or more would go by with no flights in or out. Seriously.
Inch by inch, the road gained a few miles, and the world didn’t end.
In fact, for the most part, the road extension out to Sunshine Cove and beyond had been enjoyed greatly by Juneauites — the kayakers, the berry pickers, the bikers, and the claustrophobics — before the Luddites decided enough was enough: No more miles. If you want out of Juneau, you’ve got to pay big time.
A three-mile limited-access extension made it through Native corporation land to Cascade Point. Completed during the Parnell Administration, it allows access for Kensington Mine workers to come and go from a small dock. Again, the world did not end.
For now, public access is as far as Echo Cove.
If you live in Anchorage, think of it this way: You could drive as far as Wasilla, but you could not access the rest of Alaska – not the Glenn Highway or the Parks Highway. You’d have to turn around and drive home. You could drive south as far as Bird Point, but that would be it. To leave Anchorage with your car, you’d have to spend hundreds of dollars just to get your car to a road.
Juneau, always criticized by Alaska for being out of touch, needs a road out, and the rest of Alaska needs a road into Juneau. It’s our capital and we want to drive there. This is not irrational.
48 MILES TO GO
Not a dollar more of state money is needed to proceed with the road. Federal highway funding is in place, all federal reviews have been completed, the expected nuisance lawsuits, which resulted in having to write a costly new environmental impact statement, are finally in the rear view mirror.
Hearings were held. Letters to the editor were written. The public comment period ended at the end of the Parnell Administration’s term, in the fall of 2014.
Then the project came to a screeching halt. It only requires the governor’s decision, but no decision has ever been made by Gov. Bill Walker, unless you mean by “no decision” the decision is actually “no.”
The road to Juneau will provide hundreds of jobs, and be an economic boom for Southeast Alaska at a time when the state needs some good news on the economic and jobs front.
Today the question is: Will the governor allow Alaska to have a road to its capital, or keep Juneau in its inaccessible petri dish forever?
DRILLING INTO THE DETAILS
The plan, which has been in place for decades, takes the road just as far as the mouth of the Katzehin River. From there, travelers will take a short ferry shuttle over to Haines. That ferry will go back and forth every couple of hours, not unlike the ferry going from Anacortes to Orcas Island, Washington.
The first shuttle ferry designed for the last link of the project is nearing completion at the Vigor Shipyard in Ketchikan, another Parnell-era project that was a boon to our First City. As the two Northern Lynn Canal day ferries come on line to provide access to the most sought after towns with road access to the rest of the continent – Haines and Skagway — they will increase access 10-fold, and reduce cost to the consumer by 75 percent.
Today, it costs a family of four more than $400 just to get to Skagway. That’s highway robbery by the government, in the interest of appeasing the few who cannot bear the thought of change.
Environmental warriors have had their way for nearly two decades. They have blocked the road for the usual reasons, and when they lost on the environmental front, they attacked the cost of maintaining a road.
In an article found in 360north.org, the former DOT Division Director Jeff Ottesen explains that a road investment is retained over dozens of decades. Whereas a ferry has to be replaced every few decades and is essentially replaced piece by piece during the multiple repairs that begin nearly the day it is christened.
We’d add that in lean times, maintenance on roads can be deferred or at least paced, whereas this is problematic for Coast Guard regulated ocean-going vessels.
Ottesen goes on to say that roads give travellers greater opportunity and flexibility. In this case, the Juneau road would carry 1,484 vehicles a day traveling between Juneau, Haines and Skagway in the summer. Ferry capacity is 154 vehicles a day in the summer, and with far less winter access due to budget cuts.
NOW IS THE TIME
This road to Juneau is the most shovel-ready project Alaska has had in a very long time. It needs no extra funds. The state needs jobs now. This economic bridge to the future only needs the governor to say yes.