State releases final study of Juneau road

Cost of highway, ferries and terminal at $258 million, document says

Posted: Friday, February 03, 2006

The state rolled out its final environmental study for the controversial road-ferry link from Juneau to Skagway Thursday.

The cost to build the project is now estimated at $189 million for road-building, $16 million for a new ferry terminal and $53 million for new shuttle ferries - a combined $258 million, according to the new final environmental impact statement.

It will provide a cheaper, easier way for people to travel between Juneau and Skagway, said Reuben Yost, the project manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, who supervised the study.

Opposition to the project - previously estimated at $250 million - has mounted in the Alaska Legislature, which will vote on releasing up to $45 million for the project's first phase of construction this spring.

The Federal Highway Administration is expected to publish a public notice on Feb. 10 and issue its final decision on the project in March. The public can provide comments on the project during a 30-day wait period that will start once the notice is posted on the Federal Register, Yost said.

Web links

To see the Juneau AccessFinal Environmental Impact Statement, visit: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/projectinfo/ser/juneau_access/documents.shtml.

Some former road proponents, such as Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, believe the project doesn't make sense anymore.

The Legislature passed a resolution in 2005 in support of the road to Skagway. But the project no longer is a road to Skagway.

The state announced last summer that it cannot build a road all the way to Skagway because of a federal park boundary just south of the northern Panhandle town.

Now, the state plans a 50-mile road from Juneau that will end at a new ferry terminal at the Katzehin River delta. Drivers from Juneau would need to board shuttle ferries to reach Skagway or Haines.

"Stopping it at the Katzehin flats changes the whole situation," Thomas said Thursday.

Yost said the cost of travel would be 68 to 78 percent cheaper for travelers (traveling from Juneau to Skagway) with the new road-shuttle link. Plus, they would no longer need to book an Alaska Marine Highway System reservation, he said.

Others, including Thomas, believe the shuttle ferries would be less efficient in moving travelers and provide less access to the capital than reliable fast ferry service.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the switch from a road to Skagway to a road to the Katzehin delta should warrant a new effort by the state to gauge public interest in the project.

"Now it is just a new road to a new ferry terminal," Elton said.

Many Juneau residents remain loyal to the state's proposed project, despite the changes.

"The fact that we haven't moved more folks from Juneau north (on the state ferries) indicates that there is a need for some improvement, and the road is the answer," said Sandy Williams, a former state road commissioner.

Williams said he hopes the Legislature's negative comments toward the project are "posturing."

He said the road has always been integral to the region's transportation plan. "The idea was that the long (ferry) runs would be shortened by bringing in more roads," Williams said.

The new environmental study published this week includes some changes and new information about the proposed project, according to Yost.

"It's been modified to address the comments we got on the (draft)," Yost said.

The state will pay $780,000 for the loss of 70 acres of wetlands and 32 acres in tidal habitat due to construction of the road, according to the document. The money will be used for restoration or preservation of other wetlands, though the study doesn't specify where those projects would occur.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com



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