My Turn: Improving access is common goal

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

Bob Martin's recent column (Empire, Jan. 9), cranking on my call to restart transportation planning in Lynn Canal is yet another example of dysfunctional politics in Juneau. Mr. Martin elected to flog my opinion piece and concludes his critique with a venerable quote: "Let my people go." My orientation being more new testament than old, I may have missed something in Mr. Martin's criticism but I am convinced Mr. Martin should rethink his Moses role, especially played opposite Tony Knowles cast as Pharaoh. More to the point, I seem to recall the governor actually announcing a road was probably the best alternative for long-term Lynn Canal access.

Terry R. Miller's more conciliatory response to the Lynn Canal transportation issue (Empire, Jan. 13), fortunately gives hope we might yet reach accord on this critical issue. The concerns I expressed earlier about the existing draft Environmental Impact Statement are, of course, my opinion. Those opinions aside, Terry R. Miller and I share a common goal of improving access even if we sometimes quibble about means. From this common perspective, much good might emerge.

As stated earlier, I believe the potential user "demand numbers" adopted by the Department of Transportation in the EIS are optimistic. The cost of road construction also seems low based on my review of the data. As well, the analysis comparing costs of various options to improve access seems pregnant with unwarranted assumptions. In any event those are my opinions based on experience and a review of the draft EIS. It could be that I am completely wrong and that construction of a road to Juneau will take place on time and under budget in the next few years as is contemplated by the ardent road folks. But maybe not.

Whether a road or any other access improvements in the Lynn Canal corridor are implemented will be based on political, economic and legal factors. Because I believe improving access in the Lynn Canal corridor is important for the long-term welfare and economic success of our region, I believe the topic deserves additional consideration and study. We also need to do more right now to improve access in the near term.

At this point, Gov. Knowles should direct the Department of Transportation to start working to integrate new studies and data pertaining to Lynn Canal into the moribund Lynn Canal draft EIS. The recently adopted Southeast Transportation Plan and recent McDowell study regarding marine access in Lynn Canal have information that should be reflected in the draft EIS. We need to move forward in a diligent and intelligent manner to address the transportation needs of Lynn Canal.

If there are flaws in some of the assumptions used by the department during preparation of the nearly completed draft EIS addressing Lynn Canal access, then the flaws should be fixed. The useful scientific data and engineering work in the current draft EIS should be updated. There is no need to start a new EIS process.

I believe the department should complete the EIS for Lynn Canal. In fact, if the department really believes the best long-term alternative solution for transportation access in the Lynn Canal corridor is via a road after completion of the EIS, then the department should issue a Record of Decision in favor of such an alternative. All I want is for the department to complete an EIS and Record of Decision based on legitimate demand numbers, real-world road construction costs and realistic (as compared to rhetorical), economics.

It is also critical for the EIS to outline interim transportation measures that will marginally improve access in the Lynn Canal corridor until the preferred alternative is implemented. If a road really becomes the preferred alternative for Lynn Canal, some of us want to know what improvements to the existing system are possible while we wait for the much heralded road to be built. Even if every individual in Juneau, Haines and Skagway stood four-square behind road construction, it's not obvious that constraints imposed by law, economics and politics will allow for construction of the road in the next decade, or so.

Sure, restart the planning process. Yes, finish the planning process and include a Record of Decision but make sure we have an interim plan to improve access and for heavens sake, please let us know where the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to complete the access improvements will come from while our nation is in a recession and spending billions tracking down global terrorists.

Geldhof is a Juneau attorney.

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