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Juneau Access Project manager resigns, but no setback predicted for road north

Egan expects no adverse impacts on road's development

Posted: March 7, 2014 - 12:06am
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Sandy Williams, right, prepresenting Citizens Pro Road, testifies in favor of extending the road north of Juneau to the Katzehin River during a Joint Transportation Committee meeting at the Capitol on Thursday. Patrick Kemp, left, Commissioner of Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and Jeff Ottesen, Program Development Director for DOTPF, with map, listen with other Juneau residents on the mega project.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Sandy Williams, right, prepresenting Citizens Pro Road, testifies in favor of extending the road north of Juneau to the Katzehin River during a Joint Transportation Committee meeting at the Capitol on Thursday. Patrick Kemp, left, Commissioner of Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and Jeff Ottesen, Program Development Director for DOTPF, with map, listen with other Juneau residents on the mega project.

The state’s project manager for Juneau Access — the proposed road north out of Juneau — is leaving the Department of Transportation, effective today.

An internal memo dated Feb. 10 stated that Gary Hogins, a 30-year veteran of the department, will be taking over the project from Mike Vigue, who accepted a position with the Federal Highway Administration in Juneau.

There was no mention of the pending leadership change at a Thursday joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees, which gathered to discuss the Juneau project and a proposed road to Ambler in northwest Alaska.

Members of Juneau’s Government Hill delegation were unaware of the change, but Sen. Dennis Egan, a long-time supporter of the road, isn’t worried about any problems.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect the project at all,” said Egan, D-Juneau. “There’s been a lot of project designers in charge of this thing over the last 40 years.”

After delivering his last presentation to the joint committee Thursday, Vigue told the Empire his decision to leave the DOT was unrelated to his involvement with the project.

During his presentation, Vigue said building the road would let more than 1,300 cars per day travel between Haines and Juneau. Now, only 71 cars per day can use that route, a figure determined by ferry service.

If the road were built, the long ferry ride from Haines to Juneau would be replaced by a short three-mile hop across Lynn Canal.

“The current Lynn Canal transportation system is the largest bottleneck in the state,” Vigue read from a presentation slide. “It deserves a better and more efficient alternative.”

Jeff Ottesen, program development director for the DOT, told lawmakers the road makes economic sense — despite a price tag estimated at around $500 million — because of the high cost of providing ferry service in the area. Over the next 50 years, the cost of building and operating one mainline ferry — after subtracting revenue gained from ferry riders — is about $1.42 billion, Ottesen told the committee.

The marine highway system takes up about half of the department’s budget despite transporting fewer than 1 percent of those commuting through the state, he added.

“When Gov. Bill Egan initiated the ferry system in 1962, it was never meant to provide a permanent solution to transportation in Southeast Alaska,” said Sandy Williams of Citizens Pro Road.

But the road is hardly a slam dunk as both public opposition and legal challenges aim to stop the project.

“I’d much rather spend a half-billion dollars — and half-billion is a very generous cost estimate — on repairing infrastructure we already have, or harbors or roads where there’s more of an obvious demand and benefit,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

The City and Borough of Juneau offered its support for the project in a letter to the committee, but the Haines Borough sent a letter opposing the project.

Haines prefers the road be built on the west side of Lynn Canal to avoid the dangers of numerous avalanche zones that line the proposed route.

One of the project’s biggest opponents, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, called the project a “flawed and destructive ‘Road to Nowhere’” in a letter sent to the committee. SEACC is the organization that helped delay the project eight years ago.

In 2006, a SEACC-backed lawsuit successfully halted the project. The state appealed the initial ruling, but the appeal was denied in 2011. The state then began working to satisfy the judge’s concerns about the state’s work, and that work is expected to conclude this year.

If the state gets a green light from the courts and federal approval by mid to late August, construction could begin as soon as this September. The Alaska Department of Transportation is expecting about six years of construction, Vigue told the Empire previously.


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Clay Good
Clay Good 03/07/14 - 06:56 am
Road to Nowhere

The legislature is slashing budgets and tightening belts while they steam roll an expensive and hazardous road to a ferry terminal at a dead end 80 miles past the present ferry terminal.

Hard to imagine how that saves the state money. But at least Juneau drivers will be able to shave a couple hours off their occasional ferry trip to Skagway.

Janice Murphy
Janice Murphy 03/07/14 - 07:26 am
Suspicions mount

I suspect that the real estate holdings of many of the supporters of this road should be looked into. With all the wringing of hands about budgets to build a road that, as far as I know, not many "regular people" are clamoring for must have an ulterior motive. I can think of ten projects that need dire attention and this is certainly not one of them.

Alexander  Madagascar
Alexander Madagascar 03/07/14 - 09:42 am
Any of you ever lived outside of Juneau?

There is something cathartic about being able to drive long distances, and to another populated location.

Perhaps instead of increasing funding for education for a decade, the state should have been focusing on building infrastructure and access in the places it can. You whine about it being a dead end, maybe if SEACC and others hadn't been blocking this project for 30 years (resorting to "do nothing" lawsuits), it would have already been built and the discussion would now be on building a bridge to cross the Katzehin River and have the road continue to Skagway.

But once again, any development is a bad idea. We should all just be happy to try and tax our way to prosperity, everyone should just like things exactly the way they are, and shame on anyone who dares to have money or try to make it.

The shortsightedness of some people never ceases to amaze me.

Organizations like SEACC are the reason it took an act of Congress to allow TAPS to be built.

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 03/07/14 - 10:00 am
Road to Nowhere

Why are we spending $500+ million to extend the road to yet another ferry terminal? The people I know would rather catch the ferry at Auke Bay to save money. Why would anyone
drive over an hour to get to a ferry terminal when there is one less than 10 miles away? This is insane and another Road To Nowhere. It makes me wonder why our state is getting federal transportation funds when our state spends money like this. Will someone please make a few calls to Congress, CNN, or NBC... Its up to the public to put a stop to wasteful government spending.

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 03/07/14 - 09:59 am
Dead End And Big Profits

There is great value in living in what is a gated community. I do not find it relacing to drive behind fleets of 18 wheelers where you can't see anything but steel and rubber. I guess all the folks who live in Hawaii must not experiance catharsis because they can't drive to California.

The mountain goat winter habitat comes right down to ssalt water along the proposed road route. As a hunter who does not support SEACC I value going goat hunting way more that going for a drive. Goats are very fragile with regards to habitat needs. So bye bye goats.

There are those that will make a bundle from the real estate they own that include a former DOT Deputy Commissioner.

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