Shifting attitudes make Juneau access road inevitable - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, September 27, 2021
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Shifting attitudes make Juneau access road inevitable

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The results of a recent poll commissioned by First Things First Alaska Foundation in partnership with the City and Borough of Juneau focused attention once again on our capital city’s transportation priorities.

The McDowell Group study surveyed 402 Juneau residents in January about three community transportation issues – the Juneau Access Project, Alaska Marine Highway service, and the North Douglas Crossing.

Nearly 80 percent of Juneau residents indicated support for a North Douglas Crossing – primarily for access, easing traffic congestion, and improving safety and emergency response.

Questions about ferry service and Juneau Access were more revealing.

Building another ferry terminal farther north on the existing road system to provide more frequent day-boat ferry service was supported by 53 percent of respondents.

Win Gruening

A “gradual transition to day-boat service wherever possible” was supported by two-thirds (68 percent) of residents, while only 19 percent opposed it.

Slightly more than half of respondents (54 percent) support or strongly support the construction of a road along the east side of Lynn Canal to a shuttle ferry terminal at the Katzehin River.  Only 39 percent opposed construction (with slightly less than half of those being strongly opposed).

A quarter of those opposed would be more likely to support the road if it went beyond Katzehin to Skagway.  In other words, if the road was built all the way to Skagway – as I believe will eventually happen – support would increase to over 60 percent.

This project, designated Juneau Access Preferred Alternative 2B, will allow travel between Juneau and Haines via eight daily roundtrip shuttle ferry rides (27 minutes-long and less than $20 for vehicle and driver each way).

This compares to the existing Juneau-Haines service of several weekly ferry trips taking up to 4 hours (not counting 2-hour check-in time) and costing several hundred dollars each way.

Unlike previous unscientific polls and anecdotal reporting, this survey reflects strong support for the Juneau Access Project and increased use of “day-boats” allowing the ferry system to transition to more efficient operations.

Survey results reinforce the pro-road resolution passed 6-3 by the CBJ Assembly in January 2017 after Governor Walker halted the project.

The resolution asked Juneau’s Legislative Delegation to support the previously appropriated funds and asked the Alaska Legislature to maintain funding for the project to allow it to proceed at a later time.

Apparently, some legislators were listening. During a recent budget vote, Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, offered an amendment to restore $21 million of road funding lost last year. All Republicans and Independent Jason Grenn of Anchorage supported the amendment.

Ironically, the motion was defeated 20-19 because both Juneau House members, Sam Kito and Justin Parish, voted against it – completely disregarding the regional importance of this transportation project.

Contrast this out-of-step thinking with the elections of Juneau’s mayor, Ken Koelsch, and state senator, Dennis Egan – unabashed supporters of Juneau Access who won their races by huge margins.

Declining ridership, ballooning subsidies, schedule reductions and higher fares now define our ferry system.   Ferry breakdowns and stranded passengers continue to make headlines.

Since the need for improved transportation options in Southeast Alaska is undeniable, it’s hard to understand continued resistance to a project that increases vehicle capacity and frequency of service; lowers costs to travelers and the state; and provides economic benefits to Juneau and neighboring communities.

Shortening routes by building roads wherever possible will increase ferry system flexibility and mitigate its burdensome financial difficulties.

CBJ Finance Director, Bob Bartholomew, recently noted that our community has “…lost 800 residents, 500 jobs, and total gross wages are flat,” making the economic benefits of the road even more necessary.

Despite the short-sighted actions of the current governor and Juneau’s own House members, the Lynn Canal Highway remains a viable project that will be restarted when the stars are realigned.

Opponents can cite exaggerated environmental, safety, and cost objections ad nauseum, but most Juneau residents and many in the Legislature prefer real progress to a status quo that exacerbates the economic and demographic challenges facing our region.

Eventually, as this project moves forward – and it will – access to and from the Capital City will be meaningfully improved for all Alaskans.

Win Gruening was born and raised in Juneau and retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He is active in civic affairs at the local, state, and national level.



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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

  • This winter, there was a period when no ferries were running in Southeast Alaska. The Columbia and LeConte broke down and other ferries were in the yard. During the same month, there was no service to Prince Rupert. It’s time to build the road (it’s been time for a long time).

    • It’s time to move the capital.

      And it’s been time for a long time…

  • Should poll to see the support level of a bridge from Matsu to Anchorage. I think some feelings have changed since the bridgepocolips. It’s hard to conduct business when your work force is stuck in traffic for 7 hours

    • Yeah, especially since money’s clearly no object, since we know Anchorage’s bridge to nowhere will never, ever, be closed at any time, for any reason!

  • So, the pro-road group funded a survey that says a thin slice of Juneau residents answered pro-road questions favorably. No surprises there.

    Building a dead end road through a hundred mile avalanche gauntlet by a gold mine on the way to yet another ferry terminal doesn’t seem likely to save money for the ferry system or the highway system. Ferries, terminals and roads have to be maintained either way you look at it. The more you build, the more it costs.

  • Well, heck, who can argue with “The McDowell Group”?

    The problem is that “shifting attitudes” may make a capital move inevitable if productive Alaskans are not forced to subsidize a road to the Holy City of Juneau.

    Productive Alaskans must be relentlessly persuaded by those who know what is best for them, beginning with: “Eventually, as this project moves forward – and it will –…”

    And who better to perform that thankless task than “The McDowell Group”?

  • Clay Good- what you may not know is the original road plans was a straight thru road to Skagway. However both Haines & the Ferry lobbyist complained that a straight thru road would kill Haines so former gov Murkowski made concessions to the plan in an attempt to make them as happy as possible but all it did was screw the whole deal up. A couple of bridges and the whole thing can go straight to Skagway. If you think about it for a minute, it does make some sense. With a smaller ferry shuttling to both Haines and Skagway, both towns have access to the road in and out of juneau. Then if needed in the future, a connecting road to Skagway could be finished. Personally I would also want to see a straight thru road as well and cut the Ferry system completely out of it, like Haines did.

    • ChrisW – having lived in Juneau for more than 50 years, I may know more than you suspect.

      What you may not know is that the Federal Highway Administration will not finance a road through Skagway’s Gold Rush National Park.

      What you also may not know is that Murkowski’s DOT commissioner in charge of advancing the road to nowhere was John MacKinnon, who’s family owns gold mine claims along the proposed road. He’s married to powerful Alaska Senate Finance Committee co-chair Anna MacKinnon. Such a small world….

      Let’s not extend the dead end. The Alaska Marine Highway never needs paving or plowing.

      • Gets even better when you take a look at McDowell Group’s client list…

  • So strong support was all within the margin of error even after the priming. Question 1 second crossing (Hint: roads are good) Question 2 Terminal at Echo Cove and better ferry service (Hint Roads and Ferries help each other.). Questions 3, what do you think about a road to another ferry terminal.

    Remember that question 1 was soundly defeated when the information about who had to pay for it was included.

    Not scientific at all. Skewed.

  • 402 people in Juneau surveyed – hardly a representative sample of 30,000 people. More and more are understanding the costs of continuing to extend the dead end. Already there is no winter maintenance for the extending already done, nor will it ever be likely. Existing Egan maintenance is at a minimum level, too. Garbage dumping out the road has increased. Who is supposed to clean that up? And moving the ferry terminal further out the road would lead to its demise. Remember, not everyone who rides the ferry has a car, and it’s already $40 for a cab ride from the ferry to town. Let’s just add another $110 to that for a further away ferry terminal.

  • I am a developer in southeast Alaska.
    I feel like the developers need to be paying for the road & crossing points on Douglas . I’m family owns the land for both crossing points & I will be applying funds and resources I have towards the projects. We are also providing affordable single family homes with no margin for the developer!

  • There are lots of good folks involved in this discussion. Certainly the author, Mayor Koelsch and Senator Egan know much of the history. Looming large and just outside the public discussion is former Juneau Mayor and Attorney General Bruce Botelho. In my experience, which incudes a couple of decades in Juneau, Mr. Botelho and his fellow travelers will do what ever it takes to kill the Juneau Access project.

  • The Juneau Access project should be killed, along with any number of other equally as foolhardy state proposals.

    • Amen!

      Might be more fun to move the capital…

      • If they don’t pay attention to you now, they won’t pay any more attention to you if the state capitol is moved, they simply won’t give you access no matter where they’re assembled.

        You want a responsive legislature? You have to convince people to elect those who will prioritize public representation.

        You won’t get that public representation as long as a majority of corporate stooges keep getting elected.

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