My turn: There is no rush to judgment: Second crossing has been studied

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007

Recent commentary on the North Douglas crossing in the Juneau Empire has raised many questions and at times has been less than entirely factual.

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Some have alleged that this project is being rushed along, and that recent actions are sudden, unexplained and without merit. The facts are that this project has been studied for many years; there is a lot of information available; and the present project direction is a result of the conclusions generated by previous studies.

Significant study of the project occurred in 1984, identifying 15 potential routes. In 2003, the Alaska Department of Transportation resumed additional scoping work, issuing a project development report in May 2005. This document is available on the DOT Web site (search "Juneau Second Channel Crossing."). The department spent $2,500,000 on this preliminary environmental impact statement work, and it is the source of a ton of information on the project.

I got involved in this project two years ago when I was appointed to the West Douglas Development Working Group, a mayoral task force with the charge of promoting the second crossing and West Douglas development. Our group meets about every other month. The meetings are publicized and open to the public. Very few citizens ever attend our meetings, yet recent opinion letters blast city and state officials for not providing information or answers. Educating yourself does take a little effort, but suggesting that the public does not have access to information or to the process is simply untrue.

What has led us to the current public process seeking to identify a "Community Preferred Alternative"? This project is a top transportation priority and a top emergency action plan priority for the city. This is a local project, providing strictly local benefits. Therefore, it is essential that the city be an active participant in providing direction to advance the project.

The May 2005 report identified several necessary steps to advance this project. City officials and the Assembly have been working on the steps, including adoption of the West Douglas Conceptual Plan and working with state officials to identify the range of alternatives to be studied further.

Based on DOT recommendations in the report, the Assembly passed an October 2005 resolution that, in addition to other things, supports elimination of the area west of the airport as potential corridors and resolves to focus on the areas that best meet the purpose and need (identified by DOT to be Vanderbilt Hill to Yandukin Drive).

Why did DOT focus on this area for future study? According to DOT, the project's stated purpose and need has three key objectives: 1) improve emergency response and transportation safety; 2) improve access to West Douglas for future growth; and 3) improve travel access and efficiency between mainland Juneau and Douglas Island. Any potential route must address this combination of objectives.

DOT concluded that options west of the airport have higher costs and greater environmental effects compared to others. These options also may not do much to reduce traffic congestion. Further, DOT determined that the Salmon Creek option does little to improve access to West Douglas, relieve traffic congestion or reduce travel time.

Given that the present study has reached these conclusions, an additional reason to narrow the study area is cost. If the entire 10-mile stretch of potential routes remains under consideration, completing the environmental impact statement is estimated to cost as much as $10 million to $15 million. Narrowing consideration could reduce the completion costs to a range between $2.5 million and $5 million.

The study of this project is ongoing, and will be for years to come. In that time, there will be numerous opportunities for public participation or comment. Have all questions been answered? No, because some questions cannot be answered at this conceptual stage. As further study develops more details on the most viable options, more questions can be answered.

A significant majority of Juneau residents support a North Douglas crossing. Let's work together to study it with an open mind and select the best alternative for all of Juneau's future.

• Rick Shattuck is a fourth-generation Juneau resident, a business owner, a North Douglas property owner, and vice chairman of the West Douglas Development Working Group.

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