My Turn: Transportation for Southeast

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

When Sen. Frank Murkowski was running for governor, he pledged to build roads in Alaska to promote economic development. That was one reason he swamped the opposition at the ballot box. Shortly after he was sworn in on Dec. 2, he ordered the Department of Transportation to reactivate the project to access the state capital with a road to Skagway.

He reiterated his support for the Juneau-Skagway highway in his State of the State message. Some in Ketchikan missed another important project boosting Ketchikan's and southern Southeast's economy that he touched upon. He pledged support for a bridge from Ketchikan to its airport on Gravina Island. That bridge project had been overwhelmingly supported by Ketchikan residents in October's municipal election. But what the governor said he supports, and what appears unappreciated yet by Ketchikan residents, is construction of the Bradfield Canal Road.

Bradfield Canal, across Cleveland Peninsula from Ketchikan's Revillagigedo Island, is where the Petersburg-Wrangell Tyee power plant is located. It is the destination of a power line from Ketchikan's Swan Lake plant.

From Tyee to the Canadian border is 20 miles by an old logging road right-of-way. Then it is a case of negotiating with the British Columbia government to get a highway extension to B.C. Highway 37. Canadian mining companies, working between the border and Highway 37, would appreciate quick access to deep water. They have constructed part of the road from Highway 37 so only about 25 miles more are needed to access Highway 37 from the border.

State Sen. Robin Taylor (R-Wrangell) and Murkowski have been promoting the Bradfield road for decades. Murkowski obtained $1 million in federal funds to start the project when he was senator.

The communities of Wrangell and Petersburg have been pitching the Bradfield route for years and even hired a full-time lobbyist for the project. Unfortunately, Ketchikan residents haven't realized the value of that project to their community, although it would benefit the most from it.

Ketchikan has the best prospect of hooking up directly to the continental highway without needing a ferry. The first link in that road was considered back in the mid-'90s when an environmental impact statement was drafted for the Swan Lake-Tyee Lake power intertie. An access road along the route was considered and dropped because it was considered cheaper for construction to use helicopters. The final EIS said any future road construction should be a separate project. The construction is now underway. Sen. Taylor disagrees with EIS conclusion, saying that the project would be $10 million cheaper with an access road.

It has been proposed in the past few years that the Harriet Hunt road from Ketchikan be extended to Carroll Inlet. It could meet the power line right-of-way and follow it to Tyee with short bridge crossings at Bell Island.

It is feasible but much more expensive for Wrangell to have hard access to the Bradfield road. It would entail a longer route to reach a narrow crossing near Earl West Cove on Wrangell Island. So when the Bradfield road is completed, Wrangell will be served for many years by a short ferry run to the south end of Wrangell Island. The ferry also can serve Prince of Wales at Hollis and Ketchikan, until the road is completed along the intertie right-of-way.

The road might not be completed in the eight years of the Murkowski administration but a good start will be made. The Ketchikan airport access will be completed, along with the Juneau-Skagway highway.

Also completed will be about a mile of highway to provide Kake a connection to Petersburg following logging roads. And there is renewed interest in a road from Sitka to Rodman Bay, partially constructed as part of a timber harvest program, to improves ferry access to Sitka. All of those projects are high on the Southeast Conference's list of transportation projects. Those projects, along with the Murkowski-supported Southeast Power Intertie mean economic development.

Financing is possible with voter-approved bond issues. Take one half of the more than $100 million the state spends on capital projects a year, put those capital projects in the bond issue, and the $50 million a year, with matching federal funds, could finance billions in projects throughout the state.

Williams is retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News.



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