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My Turn: The facts and figures so far behind the Juneau Access EIS

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2004

At the direction of Gov. Murkowski, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is completing the supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Juneau Access Project. Field studies were finished this past season and the technical reports from those studies are being written. We are on schedule to have the EIS available for public review this coming summer. Recognizing that there have been several commentaries to the Empire about the project, we would like to clarify some of the discussion.

What is the cost of the East Lynn Highway alternative? The estimate for Alternative 2C (connecting Glacier Highway to Skagway with shuttle ferry service between Haines and Skagway) is $265 million. In the 1997 draft EIS, the estimate was $232 million and in the 1994 Engineering Reconnaissance Report, the estimate was $325 million. In the early 1990s we did have an estimate over $500 million, but that included a bridge across Lynn Canal to Haines. The latest estimate is based on new technology that offers a higher degree of accuracy and when adjusted for inflation is almost the same as the 1997 estimate.

Is there going to be toll to use the highway? No. A toll option was included in the 1997 EIS but is not under consideration now.

What about avalanche hazards? In 1997, the Department published an "un-mitigated Avalanche Hazard Index" (AHI) which is a determination of the avalanche risk before any safety measures are added. Measures to reduce the hazards were not investigated in detail in 1997. Because avalanche safety was an often-cited issue in comments on the draft EIS, the department committed to developing a comprehensive mitigation plan. The Supplemental Draft EIS will detail specific mitigation, which significantly reduces the AHI. Mitigation would consist of avalanche monitoring, controlled snow removal, highway alignment changes, bridges, etc. We are confident that the mitigation measures described in the EIS would provide a safe winter highway.

How many vehicles do the ferries now take through Lynn Canal and how many would travel the highway when it is built? In terms of average annual daily traffic (AADT), the ferries carry about 82 vehicles per day or 30,000 per year. Traffic studies indicate that the AADT for an East Side highway would be about 620 per day or 225,000 per year. For comparison, this volume of traffic is about equal to the traffic counts on Mendenhall Peninsula Road off of Engineer's Cutoff, Thane Road near Sheep Creek, and Glacier Highway near the Shrine.

Will highway traffic use more fossil fuel? No. The predicted annual traffic volume of 225,000 vehicles would actually use less fossil fuel than the ferries now use to transport 30,000 vehicles.

What's the schedule for this project? The Supplemental Draft EIS will be available to the public this summer and public meetings will be held in Juneau, Haines and Skagway. It is our goal to complete the EIS and make a final decision by December.

Where can I get more information? Reuben Yost is the Project Manager and can be reached at 465-1828, e-mail at reuben_yost@dot.state.ak.us. The project Web site is at http://juneauaccess.alaska.gov.

• Pat Kemp is Southeast Region Preconstruction Engineer for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.



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