State lays out plan for road from Juneau; critics say money better spent elsewhere



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JUNEAU, Alaska — The state transportation department on Thursday proposed a roughly $570-million road project that would help connect Juneau to Alaska's main highway system.

It is the department's latest attempt at the long-simmering and controversial project; a prior plan was knocked down by the courts for not looking at a fuller range of alternatives.

State Transportation Commissioner Pat Kemp said in a release that the goal is to provide more opportunity to travel to the capital city at a lower cost. Juneau is accessible only by air or water. He said it would also allow for greater flexibility in scheduling ferries, an important source of transportation for residents in southeast Alaska to travel from one community to another.

But critics say the department is favoring a dead-end road extension over improvements to the state's ferry system. They say the project would replace critical infrastructure upgrades and maintenance throughout the state.

The road would not be a direct link for Juneau highways out of Skagway or Haines. Motorists would still have to hop ferries for part of the trip. Transportation department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the National Park Service raised concerns with the impact of potentially continuing the road to Skagway.

The proposal, out for public comment, calls for widening a 2.9-mile section of road from Echo Cove to Cascade Point and building a new, 47.9-mile stretch of highway to a point north of the Katzehin River delta. From there, yet-to-be-built shuttle ferries would run to Haines or Skagway, trips of less than 10 miles or 20 miles, respectively, Woodrow estimated.

A new ferry would be built to run between Haines and Skagway in the summer. Mainline ferry service from Juneau to Haines and Skagway would end, freeing up ships for deployment elsewhere. Kemp noted Sitka has been requesting better ferry service for years.

The initial construction estimate of about $570 million includes the road construction, a new ferry terminal and the new Haines-to-Skagway summer ferry. The shuttle ferries, once completed, would be used from Juneau to Haines and Skagway until a road was built.

The alternative is estimated to cost $20.4 million a year to maintain and run, $5 million more than the "no action" option.

Woodrow said there are benefits, however, including lower operational ferry costs and costing the state less on a per-vehicle basis.

Malena Marvin, director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, called the department's estimated traffic demand levels "wildly optimistic." In a statement with other critics of the project, Marvin said given the department's analysis and local opposition, "the only prudent thing is cancel the half-billion road extension and stick with the existing ferry service."


Juneau road project: http://dot.alaska.gov/sereg/projects/juneau_access/index.shtml

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