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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 - 1:06am
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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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Kevin Nye
Kevin Nye 03/08/14 - 05:10 pm
Good News

It is good news to me that the Juneau Access Project manager's resignation "will not be a setback predicted for road north". Keep building it.

Clay Good: That Atlantic Road that the Norwegians built was finished in 1989, which was a very long time ago, now. Hard to believe it then, but life and costs were WAY cheaper back then. So really, I will actually be surprised if our Road does get built. All of the efforts to delay it have driven up the costs massively, and have had a very good effect at stopping it from happening anyway.

And, you all may keep chanting your mantra about the "road to nowhere" if you like, and since I have no doubt that you will keep doing that, please, stay true to your belief and never proceed north of, let's say, Amalga Harbor as long as ye shall live. Because, all places north of there are like, No Wheres-ville, man...

Clay Good
Clay Good 03/09/14 - 12:32 am

May I politely suggest a little research into Norway's oil economy?

Unlike Alaska, Norway's abundant oil wealth is managed by its state-owned oil company. They can certainly afford to build roads along fjords, as well as dig tunnels for miles under the ocean.

But, if you dont mind, I will ignore your your strange (irrelevant) mandate to limit where I drive.

However, I will be watchful for uninsured drivers. Driving in Juneau can be dangerous.

Clay Good
Clay Good 03/09/14 - 12:20 am
@Alexander Madagascar

The trip to Haines on a slow ferry is four hours, plus an hour waiting to board.

Round trip winter rates are $150 for my vehicle and myself.

Walk ons are $37.00 each way.

Not sure if walks ons are going to enjoy getting to a ferry terminal 100 miles from town.

By the way, no disrespect intended, but your buddy "Rusty Zimbabwe" told me you used a fake name generator to get your name and that you also go by "Alaskan Assassin".

How about putting your real name to your words? Just to be fair.

Thanks for your consideration.

Kevin Nye
Kevin Nye 03/09/14 - 11:21 am
"Irrelevant" ?

"Irrelevant" you say? YOU referred to the road that may be extended to the north as a "road to nowhere" and that it would dead end across from Haines which to you and many of the opponents to the road is considered to be "nowhere". The point is, if that would be a "road to nowhere", then, our road to Echo Cove is one and the same because it doesn't connect with another city either.

It seems that opponents of various projects like to use this "to nowhere" term. The "Bridge To Knowhere" in Ketchikan for example. And that one amazes me. First of all, that bridge would have been a bridge to the airport, which is "somewhere", and also over to Gravina Island which is also "somewhere", and would have given Ketchikan some room to breathe and branch out some. But, because opponents of the bridge didn't like it, they called it the Bridge To Nowhere, and thanks to Palin and the "political winds that blew" she did a "180" and the bridge got the "Ax". MANY Ketchikan residents long awaited that bridge, but for now, it has been delayed, and no doubt all expenses appended to it are going up.

And, that bridge to Gravina would have been very similar, if not even identical in purpose to the Gastineau Channel bridge which serves some 3500 residents on Douglas Island as well as we Mainlanders who visit there for business and recreational purposes. I always refer to our bridge here in Juneau as "The Bridge To Somewhere".

So, I'm just saying that our road north really goes to "nowhere" in that there is no connection to the rest of "the world", and so, you folks who call an extension of it a "road to nowhere", shouldn't even use the road to Echo Cove, because that, according to logic you use in your argument is "nowhere" also, and you have no interest in "nowhere", right?

Clay Good
Clay Good 03/09/14 - 01:10 pm
@ Nye - Figurative VS Literal

I get your point. It's just a too pedantic, in my opinion.

Sometimes writers use figurative language to illustrate or emphasize a point.

Usually, readers understand the difference between figurative and literal language.

And as a property owner and frequent traveler to Haines, I certainly understand that places north of Juneau are indeed "somewhere".

If we're done with this language and geography discussion, perhaps you could tell us what do you think about Norway's oil economy and how it relates to expensive mega road projects?

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