At a packed Juneau Assembly meeting on Wednesday, people sat on the floor and lined the walls, many of them there to oppose or support the Juneau Access Project, which was one of the subjects of the meeting.
The testimony of attendees was fairly split between pro- and anti-road, with the pros having a slight advantage, and the Assembly voted 6-3 in favor of a resolution supporting the long-delayed project. That resolution will marched up the hill to the Governor’s Office, where Gov. Bill Walker last month decided there will be no road to Juneau.
The Juneau road has been contentious for years, with well-organized environmentalists funded by Outside environmental groups blocking it since the 1990s.
Environmentalists say they like the ferries the way they are, and don’t want the road extended by 50 miles so that ferries can make a short crossing to Haines and Skagway several times a day.
The project, euthanized by the governor, is shovel ready and paid for in full with funds the governor is now going to divert to other communities.
Assembly woman Beth Weldon reminded her colleagues on the Assembly that since she was unopposed for her seat on the Assembly, she employed sports team members to do a short survey door-to-door in her Mendenhall Valley district in the days leading up to the municipal election.
Her district, she discovered, wants the road, by a 2-to-1 margin.
Assembly woman Debbie White laid out her math: It cost a family of four with a vehicle some $700 to make a round trip to Skagway, and that’s with a 68 percent subsidy paid by the state.
“There’s no way that subsidy can continue, when 30 miles of that trip is parallel to an existing road,” White said, adding that Haines has a road to the main highway system and so does Skagway. Juneau only wants what Haines and Skagway already have — affordable access.
Opponents said road maintenance was going to be more than ferry fleet maintenance, but for boat owners, the word B.O.A.T. is an acronym for Bring On Another Thousand. Ferries pushing water around Northern Lynn Canal are costing the state tens of millions of dollars a year to subsidize, and often they are far from full. The state is subsidizing out-of-state people to bring their cars on the ferry as well, but even in the summer the car decks are often not full because people cannot afford the ferries.
“The only way the ferry system can continue to survive is to shorten what runs we can shorten, otherwise neighboring communities like Angoon, Hoonah, and Tenakee are going to suffer,” White said.
Ferries burn over 1,400 gallons of diesel for each one-way trip between Juneau’s Auke Bay Ferry Terminal and Skagway. A regular-sized truck would burn just three gallons of diesel to get to the Katzahin terminal that is planned in the Juneau Access Project. The remaining distance is only a short trip, that the new Alaska Class ferries would make several times a day.
Governor Walker said in December that the State cannot afford the Juneau Road, which is was paid for by the federal government.
Instead, Walker said he plans to reallocate the designated funds into an airport project in Angoon, a ferry terminal project in Skagway. Word is he may also retrofit the Alaska Class ferries being built in Ketchikan as day boats for the Juneau Access Project, and turn them into overnight vessels, which will drive up the labor costs.