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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 03/11/14 - 07:44 am
A Road to Berner's Bay

A road to Berner's Bay would, in the long run be very beneficial to the Public. The road to our dead end now is very beneficial to the Public. A road to Berner's would open up more land to the Public. Alaska has roughly 2.5 more times the amount of land than Texas. The Austin metro area alone, in 2011 had 1.8 million residents. And that's Austin, and not Dallas/Ft Worth, and not Houston. which are both larger in population than Austin. Alaska has a mere total population of a little over 710,000, with the lion's share, as you know, in Anchorage. I think we have enough wild places in this State that we can afford to open up access to more places in it.

The road to the mine in itself will benefit the Public greatly as well. "Anti-People" often (but maybe not you) like to say things like they did when referring to the opening of the Kensington "Opening the mine will only benefit the fat cats who own this massive corporation and a relative few hundred workers, and that's only going to last until the gold runs out", etc. But the truth in the matter is, far more people benefit from these big projects than just the workers and the company that employs them. There is, in this Capitalist Society, incredible "spin off industry" when something of this nature occurs. The people at Caterpillar back east make money that they pay their employees who manufacture certain equipment, and parts. And the clerical people in those offices make money, as do the software and computer geeks. And the shipping people here in Alaska make money as do their employees and those responsible for their "piddly" little shipping and receiving jobs. And the food service people who supply grub for the crews make money, and the road crews make money, and all of their clerical people make money, and it just goes on and on (and ON).

And if there is a road to Berner's Bay, then maybe I can DRIVE up there and launch a small boat and get a look around, instead of dying trying to GET there in a small boat. The list goes on, and, of course, I do not expect you to consider these things as valuable things. And, you could just respond by saying "Oh, so you want a road so you can "launch your little boat", okay, yeah THAT'S a real reason Kev" while rolling your eyes. OR, maybe you wouldn't.

But I believe a road to even Berner's Bay would benefit the Public greatly in the long run-directly and indirectly.

Clay Good
Clay Good 03/11/14 - 10:20 am
Good News!

Thank you for the refresher course on economics, Mr. Nye. Having worked in Juneau in the private and public sectors since I was a kid, I have a pretty good idea where the butter on my bread comes from.

Thank you, as well, for your candor regarding accessing Berner's Bay. Like many Juneauites, I share with you a love of boating in southeast.

The good news is that the road goes to Berner's Bay right now!

Launch at Echo Cove and get away from the crowds to enjoy the best of what nature has to offer.

Aren't we lucky?

Kevin Nye
Kevin Nye 03/11/14 - 11:53 am
Thanks Clay

Thanks Mr. Good.* But you know that I meant way up into the bay, but that's okay. Concerning the sarcasm about a "refresher course on economics", well, I guess you are welcome to be that way also if you like. You may comport yourself as you like. You asked if I thought it would be a good use of public funds to build that road all the way up in there, and I said yes and I told you why I said yes. I guess I could have (or probably should have) simply said: "Yes". But then, you might have asked me "why" I said "yes". I thought we were having a civil discussion. But, this has become a fruitless discussion as these things always do. It's okay. We simply have different beliefs. Cheers to you and yours, and may you and your Family always be safe, healthy and happy.

* Is "Good" really your last name?

Clay Good
Clay Good 03/11/14 - 12:57 pm
An Apology

Sarcasm not intended, Mr. Nye. Just letting you know that I understand on a personal level of what you speak. More than you might suspect.

And, no I didn't know that you meant way up into the bay. But looking at a map, I don't see too many places better to launch a boat than Echo Cove.

I have enjoyed the civility of our discussion and hope to keep it going. Yes, we have some different views, but I'll bet we share far more in common than this forum reveals.

Thank you for your sincere best wishes. Best regards, to you and yours as well.

Regarding my last name, its easy enough to confirm my identity if you doubt me. A simple google search should do.

Can't say the same for some others on this forum.

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 03/11/14 - 02:11 pm
A Road Through Berners Bay

Building Road Through Berners Bay (Daxanaak) is as barbaric as throwing a brick through one of the stained glass windows of the Sistine Chapel. Being hard to get to is what makes it so special. It is like summiting Denali in contrast to being able to drive to the top. The upper Antler, Lace and Gilkey are so amazing not only because of natural beauty but because access is challenging. Leave it alone.

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