Juneau road project put to sleep by Feds

Juneau's northern road end, Flickr photo, Creative Commons license


This week, the Federal Highway Administration made it official: The Juneau Access Project will stay in an induced coma — for now.

After Gov. Bill Walker chose the “no action” alternative for the Northern Lynn Canal route, the agency published its record of decision, a procedural matter, but also a symbolic blow to the infrastructure project.

“Improving Juneau access continues to be a priority for us,” said Walker in a statement issued by the Department of Transportation. “But the practicality of this project – a road extended to a yet-to-be-built ferry terminal through more than 40 avalanche zones, with a history of litigation – that makes it difficult to justify these kinds of expenditures as we focus on a sustainable fiscal future for Alaska.”

The demand to travel the Lynn Canal corridor is 10 times what the current ferry system can accommodate, and the ferry system is becoming increasingly unviable due to maintenance, union contracts, and the high cost for both travelers and the state budget. Ferries are routinely held in port because of needed repairs, and are extremely expensive.

A family of four traveling on the ferry from Juneau to Skagway in a family-sized vehicle pays about $636 to travel one way, $1,272 for a roundtrip. Yet that family only pays for about one third of the cost of their travel on the ferry; the rest is funded by the State of Alaska.

Driving to Skagway would cost that family $50 in gas. Driving to Katzehin and taking a short ferry to Haines or Skagway would cost less than $200. The State subsidies would be substantially less than what is now used to service the Northern Lynn Canal ferry routes.

When Walker was elected, he was pressured by environmentalists to suspend work on the environmental impact statement for the road, something the Parnell Administration had advanced. Now, Walker has directed the Department of Transportation to complete the EIS with the no-build alternative, an action that will prevent the State from having to pay back millions of dollars to the federal government.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Because Walker chose the no-build alternative, he’s left the door open for a future governor to change direction and call for the EIS to be written once again for the road alternative. It would take six months to rewrite the EIS and another year to secure permits. Road building would not occur for several years due to expected lawsuits from environmentalists.

A McDowell Group poll this year found that 54 percent of Juneau residents support extending Juneau’s road north to the Katzehin River, where a ferry would connect travelers to Haines and Skagway. Thirty-nine percent remain opposed to the project.


  1. There was a period in February this year, perhaps a week, when there was no ferry on a run. Between breakdowns and a limited number of vessels in service, all ships were idle. Sadly many in Juneau really don’t want to be connected to the rest of the state, except for that capital thingy. Alaskans need better driving access to the capital that doesn’t require multiple hours on a ferry, subject to weather. I firmly support the road between Juneau and the rest of Alaska.

    • It should have been built years ago, when it was cheaper. The longer they put it off the more expensive it’s going to get.

  2. Kudos to Gov. Walker for standing strong in the face of this impractical pork project. Nobody disputes the value of improved transportation in Northern Lynn Canal. But we already have a ferry terminal in Juneau that is just 15 miles from downtown.

    The vast majority of passengers in southeast are walk-on passengers coming to Juneau to shop, catch a jet, visit family or take care of medical needs. A ferry terminal 100 miles from downtown does nothing to serve the needs of these Alaskans.

    But all this is just smoke to cover up the reality that this was really just a scam to get the State and Feds to build a road to gold mines and claims in Berners Bay owned by powerful families and legislators. Gov. Murkowski called it a road to resources in a moment of unguarded honesty.

    Remember when Gov Murkowski appointed Robin Taylor to lead (dismantle) the Alaska Marine Highway? Sadly, the legacy of his destructive work resonates to this day.

  3. Mr. Martin, your comments may sound selfish to the many coastal Alaskans who do not live on the road system.

    Speaking of selfish, I wonder how folks on the Sterling Highway would feel if there was less money to plow and maintain it because the state built a dead end road to another ferry terminal and busted the highway budget plowing and maintaining a 100 mile dead end road?

    • That’s right, Rick. It was voted down because of the cost. Just like the road to a dead end ferry terminal.

      • With respect, it was voted down due to inflated cost estimates, not fact-based cost estimates.
        The idea is still very much alive.

        • These things can happen when you are not on the committee that determines the cost estimates. Care to give us your fact-based estimates? I’m sure you could give us an estimate for the capitol moving to an empty warehouse near Willow for peanuts, right?

          • Nobody, including you and I, have a fact-based estimate because we have no access to such facts.
            We don’t even know how much of state government is actually necessary, again because we have no access to factual audit-based information that might jeopardize the comfortable status quo.
            What we got and still get are wildly inflated numbers from those whose successful careers depend on the capital remaining right where it is.
            Thought about a double-wide in Spenard, but a Willow warehouse would work…

        • So, by your own admission, the number could have been low-balled!
          You didn’t like the number so it was too high??
          How about that LIO building in Los Anchorage? Was it too high, also? Heheh!

          • Could be…
            Pigs could fly.
            Party of Hillary Clinton could save Alaska.
            State government could be a model of honesty and thrift.
            But not likely, regardless of what one “likes”…
            The LIO was high enough to suit the building inspectors, no?

        • You seem to be getting a bit into the weeds with this bot-world, Morrigan. The conversation was only about your insisting the numbers Alaskan’s voted on were “too high” but you’ve failed to give us a good reason.
          You didn’t like the results of election, for some reason, and can’t suck it up. Tough noogies!

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