That road out: What it is, and isn't

Posted: Wednesday, February 04, 2004

What would a road connecting Juneau to the rest of the road system mean to you? I posed the question recently to a sampling of Juneau residents, all of whom were simply citizens. Each answered personally the question of how he or she felt about a road connecting this community directly to the roadways of the continent.

The question of such a road has been controversial. It isn't often mentioned at hearings, or in the course of political discussions, but the word "controversy" and the word "verse" have a common root: the Latin "vertere." In essence, "to turn over." In the turning over of questions that speak to how people live, a discernible poetry, an eloquence of expression, arises, as readers will find with these personal responses, where no single feeling or conviction could be said to eclipse any other in significance.

Herewith the observations of some Juneau neighbors.

"You mean the road I've been waiting for since 1962? You mean that one?" asked Brian Pringle. "I would absolutely be for a road. I think that for a variety of reasons it is a good idea. From a practical standpoint, the majority of the no-road dogma is just that. With a road, we have increased tourism and increased interaction with other cities. Some of the nay-sayers are used to expressing that if we had a road, that crime would rise in Juneau. If that were true, we should ban Alaska Airlines from landing planes in Juneau. I mean, that's a silly idea. There is no place I know of that has no crime. This is the capital of the State of Alaska; it is about time for Juneau to catch up, to be more available, to be more accessible.

"As far as difficulty with terrain," Pringle said, "it is very discouraging to watch people insist on trying to reinvent the wheel. As anyone who has ever traveled through Europe, Canada and Montana knows, roads have been built through difficult terrain. Winter? I have driven the Alaskan highway in winter many times.... Many of the problems we would encounter have already been successfully addressed and solved in other areas.

"The only thing I find abhorrent about a road out of Juneau," concluded Pringle, "is the obscene amount of money that has been spent in the past 40 years 'studying it.' With any project, you have good points, bad points. Yes, it's a costly project, but since some people have been waiting for 40 years, I wonder how much we have all paid in exorbitant travel and shipping costs?"

Marsha Buck offered four points, and emphasized that the first was the main one. "From everything I've read," said Buck, "the primary push for the road is economic - that it's for economic reasons that people want the road. I know the role that we in our Western world have given to economics - economic success, more and more material possessions, valuing natural resources only if a means to economic ends - but those values are the opposite of what, to me, gives reverence. The things that I find bring reverence in my life are life, not just human life, but life, and well-being, and peace, and compassion. Those are the kinds of things that are important, and that I value, and they are the opposite of when you value the economics. So I don't support the road, because from all the research I have seen, the road is an economic tool for the short run, and it's going to diminish life in the long run.

"Species of life, the eagles, the sea lions, their rookeries that will be destroyed, birds, the plant life - anything that diminishes life and the health of life in general, in other words, all species - also diminishes my life, and human life. It also diminishes the life of my grandchildren, of future generations, not just me.... For me, I can't base decisions on the economic, because I think the economic is what needs not to be sacred to us."

Moving to her second point, Buck said, "We have a low crime rate here, and I think the road would raise the crime rate. It's not easy to get out of town, and I think it does keep our crime rate down. My third point is that I think that the maintenance costs, if there is a road, are going to be outlandish. I think those are going to be state costs, not city costs, but at a time of decreasing state revenues, cutting needed social services, education, why add new costs?

"My fourth point is trucks," concluded Buck. "I think an increase of truck traffic and the increase that occurs in truck traffic pollution and accidents is going to occur. Personally, trucks have affected my life, in an accident a few years ago. For the safety of Juneau citizens, I don't think we need more trucks on the road."

"I'm not in favor of a road," said Tim Moore. "I've been here 28 years, and I didn't come here to change Juneau; I came here to enjoy it. I think it would

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