Money for The Road? Alaskans weigh in

Funding expected to be announced this week

The final funding allocation for a proposed road out of Juneau that would effectively connect the capital city to the rest of the state should be known this week.

 

The revised capital budget bill, SB119, which initially included $35 million for the Juneau Access Project — $5 million in state funds, and $30 million in federal dollars — will likely be revealed early this week.

With less than two weeks left in the regular session and the updated budget not yet public, Alaskans chimed in on the governor’s proposals Thursday and Saturday.

Juneauites testified to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

The tally for those talking about the proposed road was 10 in favor and seven opposed, said James Sullivan, legislative organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a major opponent of the proposed route.

“There are numerous questions, and a great many problems revolve around this project — they have for decades,” Sullivan said before asking the Legislature to not fund the project.

He added that approving funding for the road would be premature, because a supplemental environmental impact statement, which will shed light on some of the specific construction needs of the project and give a clearer picture of the total cost, has not yet been released. It’s now expected to be published early June.

“It will be a boondoggle. Alaska can’t afford one during this time of revenue crisis,” he said. “There is very, very little payback on this very expensive project.”

Mike Miller, a mountaineering enthusiast and 20-year Juneau resident, told the committee that, having hiked the proposed route, the project is a “waste of time.”

“The hazards along this proposed route are phenomenal,” Miller said. “Just in 22.2 miles of the proposed road we have 112 geological hazards — there’s 52 rock fall hazardous areas, 42 debris flows, 31 avalanches and two landslides.

“It will probably take the National Guard just to keep this road open,” he added.

Still, those opposed to the road were in the minority at the Thursday hearing. Many of those in support pointed to the cost-savings of building and maintaining a road versus using ferries.

“There are places you can’t get to unless you get on the boat and go, and those places need to have better service,” Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford said. “Juneau Access supports that changeover from a place where we can have a road to better access for our small communities on the islands that make up our archipelago.”

Paulette Simpson, a Douglas resident, told the committee that ferries will always be needed due to Southeast Alaska’s geography, but added that building roads to shorten those trips is the “most fiscally responsible path forward.”

“I’m not interested in ferries going away, but that doesn’t mean that roads should not be allowed particularly when Southeast and the state have so much to gain,” she said. “Economic activity in our region will increase substantially both during road construction and after road completion when fish, freight and people can be moved quickly and at a much lower cost.”

The Juneau Empire is planning a special section on the history, concerns, possible alternatives and proposed plan for the Juneau Access Project that will be published after the supplemental environmental impact statement is released later this year.

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