500-mile road to Nome could cost $2.7 billion

Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010

JUNEAU - An engineering study found that a 500-mile road to Nome championed by Gov. Sean Parnell could cost as much as $2.7 billion.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the estimated price staggered some legislators Tuesday in Juneau. Maintenance would run another $40 million a year.

"Oh my gosh. That's a shocking price tag," said Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis of Anchorage.

The study that came up with the estimate cost $1 million itself. Parnell is asking the Legislature to spend $2 million in the coming year for more study of the route and engineering.

Parnell highlighted the project last week in his State of the State speech. The highway would improve access for villages and open the area for gold and silver mining.

"The governor is very interested in this project. The road would create jobs for Alaskans and open access to resource development," said Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.

The study by Anchorage engineering firm Dowl HKM recommended the road begin near Manley Hot Springs and follow the Yukon River through Interior villages west to Norton Sound.

Legislators from Nome and Fairbanks are pushing hard for the project.

Nome Sen. Donny Olson has said the road would bring in much cheaper gasoline and heating oil to Western Alaska. Fairbanks Rep. Mike Kelly said the state should start now on construction, and eventually expand the road to Kotzebue and Dillingham. It would create jobs and bring hope to the region, he argued, helping with problems like domestic abuse and suicide.

The road would pass through an estimated 65 miles of mountains, 185 miles of wetlands and require the construction of a new Yukon River crossing.

The Dowl engineering study said the general area has great potential for gold, silver and other minerals, although the data on that is limited because it's so remote there's been little exploration.

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