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Gov. earmarks $35M for Juneau road

Posted: February 19, 2014 - 1:03am
A road north of Juneau would have to negotiate the steep terrain of the east side of Lynn Canal.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
A road north of Juneau would have to negotiate the steep terrain of the east side of Lynn Canal.

A road out of Juneau may break ground this fall with an infusion of new funding.

Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s capital budget includes $35 million for the Juneau Access Project, and a Senate Finance Committee co-chairman said Tuesday that the request likely will be granted.

“I think the governor’s request for the (Juneau Access Project) will stand in the budget,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. “The road offers another alternative to the folks down here, so the road’s got merit. It’s just very expensive.”

As planned, the road will extend Glacier Highway 50 miles north, to a spot about three miles across the Lynn Canal from Haines.

“We’re trying to increase the availability of travel for the public, and we’re trying to reduce the cost,” said Mike Vigue, the Juneau Access Project manager for the Department of Transportation.

The project has the support of Juneau’s two delegates to the Legislature. Juneau’s second House seat remains vacant.

“As the capital city, it’s very important we continue to improve access to the capitol,” Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said. “And there are additional benefits to increasing commerce and recreation and increased connection to our neighbors to the north.”

The proposed $35 million allocation is not enough to complete the road. The most recent estimates put the cost of constructing the road at $523 million, and about $28 million has been spent so far on environmental preparation work, Vigue said. In total, the state and federal government will have allocated more than $214.5 million toward the project — assuming the Legislature approves Parnell’s budget.

The $35 million (a figure that includes $30 million in federal pass-through funding) is enough to build enough road to reach the Kensington gold mine, which is a “very laudable goal to improve safety and access” for the people working at the mine, Muñoz said.

“It would help improve economic vitality in Juneau and throughout the region,” she said.

The project has bigger hurdles to clear than Legislative floor votes and a Parnell signature of approval.

One of the project’s biggest opponents is the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which helped delay the project eight years ago.

In 2006, a SEACC-backed lawsuit successfully challenged the project. The state appealed the initial ruling, but the appeal was denied in 2011. An injunction stopped work on the road, and the state began work on a supplemental environmental impact statement in response to the injunction.

“When we go to the judge to get the injunction lifted, our expectation is that he will rule that we complied with his request and he will lift the injunction,” Vigue said.

Even if the state meets the judge’s concerns, it may not meet the concerns of all critics.

“There are numerous issues with trying to build this road,” said James Sullivan, the legislative organizer for SEACC. “They include environmental issues, safety concerns from going through 36 avalanche zones and sustainability issues like going along critical habitat areas for sea lions.”

He added that project has numerous other problems; namely, it’s a “step in the wrong direction” because it eliminates a public transportation option for Alaskans wanting to traverse the Lynn Canal without their vehicle.

“The state of Alaska has a revenue problem, and yet our list of mega-projects is exploding,” Sullivan said. At the same time, they’re talking about cutting funding to schools – none of this adds up.”

Even if the state gets a signed-and-sealed go-ahead from the federal government, that may not be the final decision on the project, Vigue added.

“Anyone that wants to and has the standing to can file a lawsuit within 150 days after the record of decision,” Vigue said.

If the injunction is lifted, and the state gets federal approval by mid-to-late August, construction could begin as soon as September. The Alaska Department of Transportation is expecting about six years of construction, Vigue said.

Sullivan says lawmakers would be making a premature decision by voting on the appropriation before the new environmental statement is released. “They’re being asked to spend millions of dollars up front when they don’t know what the road is going to look like, or what the final price tag is going to be,” he said.

Still, Muñoz is confident lawmakers won’t stop funding once the project gets rolling.

“As we continue to make progress and move forward, I think we will continue to support those efforts,” she said.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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Clay Good
1638
Points
Clay Good 02/19/14 - 07:51 am
21
17
Parnell's Priorities - a Dead End Road to the Future.

Tax cuts for Big Oil? Building a road to a gold mine?

Invest in Alaska's education - It's our best road to the future. And it's not a dead end!

Owen Beaver
110
Points
Owen Beaver 02/19/14 - 07:47 am
7
14
Other people's money...

I hope they included funds for free electric charging stations out at Kensington. My friends with the $50,000.00 tax exempt retirement cars shouldn't have to increase their carbon footprints when lured to the new end of the road.

Owen Beaver
110
Points
Owen Beaver 02/19/14 - 08:05 am
16
14
Open your eyes!

The best jobs in town for young folks getting out of school are at the gold mine! The one's who leave town to further their education for the most part don't return; not hardly a good future for our state. Opening Juneau to the rest of the world certainly provides educational opportunities not found in classrooms or on line. Just build the road, NOW!

Karl Ashenbrenner
2715
Points
Karl Ashenbrenner 02/19/14 - 08:58 am
11
13
523 million

sounds like a lot...BUT the road was scoped to cost over that 30 years ago...typical DOT bs, downgrade the cost to make it seem palatable. Just a few years ago DOT pegged the cost at 270 million, now 523, the cost estimates from the scoping sessions of 30 years ago pegged the cost at close to 1 billion. Yes..Billion with a B! And we can't fund our schools adequately. We have a 2 billion per year giveaway and Parnell now wants to fund the road, not by the total cost, but by little chunks....remember the saying "Death by a thousand cuts", this ill conceived project will bleed money that we cannot afford to bleed.

Frank Heart
595
Points
Frank Heart 02/19/14 - 09:02 am
16
14
Cut $$$ from DOT!

The truth is that this is $35 million of public funds being used to build a road to private property.

As our state cuts funds for education and health care.

Lets see funds cut from DOT

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