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My Turn: Caging Southeast's 800-pound gorilla

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2007

To get a clear look at what transportation may be like in the future if the ill-advised road up the Lynn Canal ever gets built, you only have to look to the present. This past week the Klondike Highway has been closed due to two very large avalanches. You could only imagine what kind of conditions there would be past the Kensington Mine.

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The Juneau road in the current Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan is the 800-pound gorilla that not only has screwed up transportation in the Lynn Canal but also has serious ramifications to local Department of Transportation projects throughout the State of Alaska.

Day boat operations in the Lynn Canal have been successful (Malaspina 1999-2002). The Fairweather a few years back actually paid for operations during a three-month period. Building a road through a major avalanche corridor on a ferry route that works makes very little sense. The true costs of the project, especially considering it will require three new vessels and a new ferry terminal, make the idea of building a new ferry (or utilizing existing boats) pretty appealing. While public support in Juneau may have gained some due to the degradation of the ferry service in the Lynn Canal the past few years, the majority of Haines and Skagway residents have been consistent in their desire for improved ferry service. A terminal at Cascade Point, where the state is already building a road to a private ferry terminal (Kensington Mine shuttle ferry), would improve day boat operations even further. Opening the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan should be a priority.

The past four years, with the exception of Inter-Island Ferry Authority day boat service in the Southern Panhandle, our transportation infrastructure has become the laughing stock of people in the region. Community leaders have been up arms when local projects disappeared off the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program and no real good explanation was given. Public process has been ignored and I would hate to see Gov. Sarah Palin's administration making the same mistakes and taking advice from folks who influenced the past several years of misdirection.

Let's go ahead with the plans to build a Lynn Canal shuttle. The plans are being developed by professional marine architects, with help from Alaska Marine Highway System planners and staff who are very good when given a chance to do their job. I have seen the parameters given to the designers and if followed the vessel would work very well in the Northern Panhandle.

Even if a road was to be built you need this vessel to act as a shuttle from the Katzehin Terminal or the Skagway-Haines shuttle which used to be the golden egg of the ferry system. It also will be needed for all those days the road will be closed due to avalanches. It makes sense to concentrate on getting this done and then seeing how it works from Auke Bay or Cascade Point. Build a reliable day boat in the Lynn Canal and it will take care of access from Juneau north and free up other vessels for village service out of Juneau. What scares people who have spent so much time working on the road is that there is a very good chance it will work and satisfy the public.

Let's give it a shot.

• Mike Korsmo is a tugboat captain, member of the Skagway City Council, on the Southeast Conference Board of Directors and on the Alaska Municipal League Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.



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