Cost of road access not excessive

Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2005

N ow that the Juneau Access EIS has been completed and public testimony has begun, there are some issues that need to be brought to light before a final decision is made as to which alternative is best for Juneau. One of the main arguments being used against building the road to Skagway is the estimated $280 million price tag. It's a lot of money - that's for sure - but when compared with other state transportation projects now on the drawing board, it brings new perspective to that cost. The Knik Arm Crossing north of Anchorage is estimated at $800 million. The bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island is estimated at $230 million, and construction of a new mainline ferry is estimated at $125 million. Other state transportation projects that have been built over the last 10 years include: remodel of Anchorage International Airport at a cost of $500 million, road access to Whittier (town of 230 people) at $80 million, construction of ferry Kennicott at $80 million, and construction of fast ferries Fairweather and Chenega at $80 million.

Look at the cost of projects planned for Juneau: $100 million for a new capitol building, $100 million for the NOAA/UAS Fisheries Complex, $60 to $100 million for a fully developed Lake Dorothy Hydroelectric Project, and $55 million for the new Valley high school. Let's face it folks, the cost of Juneau access is a lot more reasonable than the opposition would lead you to believe.

If Juneau supports the No-Action Alternative and thinks the state will continue operating the ferries up the Lynn Canal at their current level of service, Juneau may be sadly disappointed. It costs the state about $6 million annually to subsidize these ferries, and when amortized over 20 years, not including inflation, that would be $120 million.

As more and more of the political power shifts from rural and Southeast Alaska to the Railbelt, and as state revenues become more scarce, there will be a greater effort in the Legislature to reduce these ferry subsidies to support other projects more important to the Railbelt. This would eventually mean a lot less service for Juneau, Haines and Skagway. This is something Juneau should be very worried about. That's why Juneau residents need to support Alternative 2 (Preferred) East Lynn Canal Highway with Katzehin Terminal and get this road built now.

• Rich Poor is a retired Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities employee and a former Juneau Assembly member.

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