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Tuesday, November 21, 2017
HomeAlaska NewsRoad to common sense: Governor has a decision

Road to common sense: Governor has a decision

 

Juneau has jumped through every hoop

Downtown_Juneau_and_Douglas_Island

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.

Alternative_2B_East_Lynn_Canal_Katzehin

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.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Excellent article providing accurate perspective on the history and future of the road. It should be pointed out that those opposing the road are of two types–both equally selfish and morally deficient.

    The first type (your term “Luddite” describes them well) are of the ferry-worker unions. They would rather the economic destiny of Juneau be destroyed sooner than embrace common-sense improvement to our transportation system. Remarkably, that is notwithstanding the fact the road would actually enhance the ferry system–a profound testament to the blurred vision of this faction.

    The other type are pseudo-intellectual elitists who seek to preserve Juneau’s status-quo as their personal Idyllic Nirvana. They view our isolation as a dimension of their privileged elite status. As to balancing Juneau’s economic accounts with productive features (of which access is critical), their blissful philosophy allows no room for concern. Neither are they concerned with the difficulty the isolation causes those on lower socio-economic rungs (who cares about those who can’t afford vacation flights). Rather, they just want their cake and to eat it too. They promote a litany of false narratives to support their immoral position: bogus environmental concerns, perverse economic arguments, and a host of phony talking points.

    In summary, to remain the capital of Alaska, Juneau must improve access to the greatest degree possible. To believe otherwise is to promote the capital-move agenda and the ultimate demise of Juneau’s economic health.

      • the state is broke I guess you could give up your pfd to help finance the project

        • Obviously you didn’t read the article, the road is already fully funded by FEDERAL funds.

  • why not just state the real reason for this road- greater access to logging and mining for multinational corporations who will funnel most of their profits out-of-state and out-of-country? many alaskans work for these corporations and couldn’t care less about the long-term effects these companies are having on their state, because they won’t live to see those effects. these people will be right on board with this road, so why not stop pretending that it has anything whatsoever to do with transportation and just tell the truth?

    • Genius, there is almost no logging anywhere in Southeast and what little is being done is mostly done by ANCSA Corporations. The left’s hero Bill Clinton destroyed Southeast logging and Tony Knowles stood idly by. As the article says, the road already is complete to Kensington Mine’s dock.

      This situation is just as the poster above describes; an alliance between Juneau’s greenies and elitists and the ferry unions. Now they’ve been joined by Anchorage area capital movers. The reality is that the only part of the Capital that Juneau really has any more is the star on the map and the Legislative Session. Most of the commissioners and directors have their primary offices in Anchorage and there are far more State employees in Anchorage than in Juneau. Juneau needs better transportation and economic development or it is going to become like Skagway; crowded with tourists and low-paid wait staff in summer and empty in winter. When I left in ’10 much of downtown Juneau closed with the last cruise ship and re-opened with the first one next spring.

      • The “ferry unions” are hardly powerful enough to have much impact on the outcome of the road debate. None of the three unions have enough members or resources to carry the kind of clout you imagine or describe. Not to mention, the membership is harshly unanimously opposed to the Juneau Access Road.

        • Its a great country in which you can believe unions are “hardly powerful” while others of us can believe they carry a lot of clout. The real point is you agree the union “membership is harshly unanimously opposed to the Juneau Access Road,” We believe that union position is detrimental the the well-being of all Juneau citizens. Without a sound local economy we are not secure.

  • Excellent Article! I didn’t know that the funding was all set up! Why isn’t Byron (A Juneauite) pushing the Governor to say yes?

  • It doesn’t take you out of Juneau. It just makes the ferry terminal farther away and drivers have to pass through huge active avalanche zones. You still need to take a ferry ride to connect to any place else. The road would mainly serve the mining industry.

  • Most people in Haines don’t want the road. Summers here are crazy here already with canadian visitors and independent rvers it is hard to find a place to get away. Bring people up from Juneau and there will be no place to fish, ride your atv, or have a picnic.

  • The Federal money is $25 million.
    The state has already spent $25 million on the “road”.
    How many miles of road did the first $25 million build?
    Common sense says there is no way that road can be built for another $25 million.

  • Funny how most of the emphasis in the article is on leaving Juneau. Melody is right, it just makes the dead end farther away.

  • I live in Juneau and Juneau does NOT need a road out. There are literally thousands of communities in Alaska that are not road accessible. I suppose one could be prejudicial against them by focusing millions of dollars on extending Highway #7. I am not buying the line that Alaskans will want to drive on a regular basis to come see the Legislature. The legislature usually meets during the winter, when driving conditions from the Anchorage hub to Haines or Skagway can be dangerous. Who is going to plow/maintain those roads so the constituents can safely drive to Juneau? Who is going to own the gas station/repair shop, man the tow truck, live at/provide the emergency services for that road?

    I like that the criminals who try to run away from this city are limited to the ferry or airport. I like that the Roadside Garbage Dump has a limited range (the annual clean-up is bad enough as it is). I like that where ever I drive on the road system, emergency services can reach me quickly and without costing a fortune.

    Every Alaskan is aware of how much travel costs. The airfare to Elfin Cove, Hoonah and Pelican are equal to a one way to Seattle. Every Alaskan who lives in a community without a road knows what it takes to leave and return to that community. They either grew up with that expense or they moved to the town knowing the expense.

    The people who are selfish are the ones who move into these places and want to make changes by any means possible. The people who are selfish are the ones who have traveled to or moved from the Lower 48 and want to make Alaska a copycat of that life. Sorry to say, a majority of Alaska never has been and never will be completely road accessible. Get over it.

    Another note is a lot of people in SE Alaska use the ferry system to get back and forth between family, sporting events and community events. To move the ferry terminal from it’s current position at Auke Bay to the proposed location near Haines would require a $400 cab ride (one way) to get to the Valley portion of Juneau. So every single person who takes the ferry would have to bring a car. If they don’t, it would be cheaper to fly.