My Turn: Consider a compromise for the Juneau-Skagway road

Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Since the time of my first ferry ride up Lynn Canal in March 1976, I have been opposed to building a road through this magnificent area. However, a recent My Turn article proposed an alternative road and ferry configuration for the Juneau Access project that I do not believe has been previously considered.

I'll call this new Alternative 5 in Department of Transportation terminology related to its 2005 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, because previously considered alternatives are labeled from 1 to 4D. Alternative 5 would extend the road through Berners Bay to Point Sherman and involve building two bridges over the three main rivers. (See the map for Alternative 2B at the Empire's Juneau-Skagway Road Web site.) Fast ferries would then funnel passengers and vehicles from a new ferry terminal at Point Sherman to Haines and Skagway.

I think that this compromise may offer advantages over all others that have been considered to date. The most hazardous portion of the area from Point Sherman to Katzehin River is left alone, resulting in a major reduction in total road cost and avoiding the degradation of this most beautiful pristine section of Lynn Canal. Since the National Park Service will never allow the remaining 10 miles of road between Katzehin River and Skagway to be built anyway, the state's preferred alternative seems to me to be a waste of money. The Point Sherman terminus could have a visitor center, restaurant and recreation area for a perfect day trip during the summer for both locals and tourists. There should be no major impediments to the state keeping the road open in winter to Point Sherman as long as maintenance costs are budgeted. The ferries should be able to run many times a day, because the 40-mile ferry run could be done in little more than an hour.

Haines and Skagway residents who need medical care in Juneau should be able to travel here within a day. Juneau residents would gain more access to Berners Bay and its recreation opportunities, and citizen groups like Friends of Berners Bay could take the challenge to develop management policies and plans to safeguard the beauty of the area and make sure it is not overused. The prohibitive cost for a family of four to take the fast ferry should be reduced substantially (although not eliminated).

From the money saved, the second crossing could be built, improving access to Eaglecrest Ski Area and North Douglas. Perhaps we even build a ferry terminal and airport complex near Point Hilda, where the Native corporations want to expand industrial operations. While we would have farther to go to fly out of here, everyone here has experienced the creeping fog shrouding the current airport, while everywhere else is clear. With this infrastructure in place, either the city or private companies could then provide surface transportation from this complex to downtown Juneau to Auke Bay to Point Sherman. If we got really creative, we'd even put in a light rail system all the way from Point Hilda to Point Sherman, resulting in seamless travel connections throughout the borough independent of gasoline dependent vehicles.

While this proposal satisfies neither the pro-road nor the anti-road groups completely, it does offer both sides something of what they want. Perhaps it can still be possible for Juneau residents to work together on a project that everyone can live with.

• Juneau resident Terry Quinn lives out the road. He is an educator, pianist and singer.

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