Spend transportation funds wisely

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Remember Chicken Little? Well, some mysterious object must have struck the Department of Transportation, because it's claiming the sky is falling. Suddenly, sufficient funds to fix what's broken, do routine maintenance, and build what's desired havedisappeared.

The department has never been accused of being a chicken when it comes to building roads. After all, it plans to build a road through some of the most extreme terrain imaginable - across 36 active avalanche paths and an additional 112 rock, land and debris slides, and through intertidal areas beset by howling winds and 7- to 10-foot seas.

Next, factor in 92 eagles' nests, critical habitat for an endangered species, and dozens of different timing windows to protect marine mammals and spawning fish - all this and more in just 50 miles of road.

Juxtapose the "sky is falling," short-on-funds rhetoric with an alleged $374 million price tag for a road extension to - well, a new ferry terminal. Promoted initially as a road that actually went somewhere - to Skagway - the new rationale for the Juneau access road and ferry project is to simply shorten the existing ferry ride. And not only would this not save the state any money, but it would double the cost of existing ferry service over a 35-year life span, according to the April 2006 Juneau Access Record of Decision.

If the sky is really falling, as the department maintains, and the funding bubble is really ready to burst, how about exercising a little fiscal restraint for a project of dubious merits opposed by a majority of residents in Haines, Skagway, Juneau as well as the rest of the state. Instead, let's spend our declining transportation funds wisely on projects that meet real needs versus perceived ones.

Mark Battaion


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