Juneau is at a crossroads. By all objective indications, the status quo has not been working. Our population is aging more rapidly than in other parts of the state, and our growth is flat. Our youth are leaving because of lack of meaningful employment and the high cost of living, including transportation in and out of Juneau.
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Today's generation wants more than a drive to the end of the road for a family picnic or an afternoon spent hiking one of our hundred local trails. To see the world outside of Juneau is prohibitively expensive for most families. We used to have two and sometimes three airlines serving Juneau, including Air North to Whitehorse. The competition helped keep costs down. Our ferry system was composed of new ships with few maintenance problems, small crews and low fuel costs.
Times have changed. We have one major airline now. Our ferries are old and in constant need of repair. Because of high labor costs and high fuel costs, fares have risen so high that many are excluded from traveling.
Where will Juneau be in 20 years? Transportation is a key part of the picture. If the ferry system is run the way it has been for the past 20 years, and the subsidy to run it is not addressed, the next 20 years will cost the state more than $2 billion, not including increased fuel and labor costs. When you factor in less ridership - as has been the case in recent years, the subsidy could be higher. Four mainline ferries need to be replaced at a cost of $250 million each.
We need to get real. A road out of Juneau would solve some of these problems.