Feds give nod to road out of capital

Environmental study of road to be released by the end of the month

Posted: Friday, January 14, 2005


Public comments on Juneau and Sitka access studies can be submitted by e-mail to the Alaska Department of Transportation at andy_hughes@ dot.state.ak.us.

The Federal Highway Administration has signed off on a draft environmental study that could pave the way for building a road from Juneau to Skagway or improving northern Panhandle ferry service.

The supplemental draft environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project reviews the potential repercussions various projects in the plan would have for wetlands, wildlife, fish streams and other aspects of the environment.

Other options in the plan include building a road to Haines and taking no action.

The study began in 1994 but was put on hold by former Gov. Tony Knowles in 2000 when he cut about $1.5 million in funding to complete the review.

The project seeks to improve transportation in the Lynn Canal area through road construction, improved ferry service or a combination of the two. The state has chosen a 65-mile road between Juneau and Skagway as its preferred alternative. The project has been estimated to cost between $260 million and $300 million.

"Shortly after I was elected governor, I directed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to complete the work on this project, which had been suspended under the previous administration," Gov. Frank Murkowski said in a written statement. "I did so because improving transportation and access are among my top priorities."

The proposed road, which Murkowski supports, has been one of Juneau's most controversial issues. Environmental organizations and others have opposed building a road, while developers and others have vigorously supported the project.

"We're going to take a good, hard look at the environmental impact statement when it comes out," said Emily Ferry of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a Juneau-based environmental organization that opposes road construction. "The same concerns about avalanches, the unclear purpose of the project and impacts to Berners Bay are likely to still be there."

The environmental document will be released to the public by the end of the month, according to DOT preconstruction engineer Pat Kemp.

"We'll have it available as soon as we can," Kemp said.

He said a public comment period for the study will begin in mid- to late-February, and public meetings will be held in Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Kemp said the public comment period ends March 21.

He said the state hopes to issue a final environmental impact statement this fall. A final record of decision will be released after that and then the project can begin, Kemp said.

"The department has worked hard to complete this phase of the project and we look forward to hearing public comments on which project alternatives best meet individual, family and community needs," said DOT Commissioner Mike Barton in a written statement.

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