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State offers road project to Juneau

Route up east side of Lynn Canal will cost $280 million

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The state of Alaska's controversial road-building plan to link the capital city to Skagway and the continental highway system is up for public review in Juneau today and Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation will host open houses from 12-4 p.m. and public hearings from 5-9 p.m. today and Thursday at Centennial Hall.

The 68.5-mile road would cost an estimated $280 million to build and would be closed for an estimated 35 days in the winter to mitigate avalanche risks. The state is taking comments on its draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the project until March 21.

The state has selected a preferred road route - up the east side of Lynn Canal - from nine alternatives including four marine transportation options.

The state's preferred alternative eliminates fast ferry service in Lynn Canal and builds a two-lane road from the end of Glacier Highway, at Echo Cove, around Berners Bay and along the eastern shore of Lynn Canal to Skagway. The state would need to build a ferry terminal north of the Katzehin River delta to shuttle drivers to and from Haines. Mainline ferry service would end at Auke Bay and direct ferry shuttle service between Haines to Skagway would be terminated.

"What is most startling about the EIS is that the state found that ferries are ($7 million) cheaper to operate in Lynn Canal when all of the costs are considered over the long run," said Emily Ferry, coordinator of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, a project of the Alaska Conservation Foundation. Her group is promoting ferry service over new roads.

Pat Kemp, the state transportation department's preconstruction engineer for Southeast Alaska, agreed that making no changes to Juneau's current transportation system would cost less. "But what we are talking about here is just the state cost. Another way to look at it is ... user costs."

The study indicates that transportation by road will cost less than half that of ferry traffic for a family of four traveling in a 19-foot vehicle.

Ferry said the project would delay or eliminate funding for at least 95 other Alaska road projects.

Ken Leghorn, of Juneau, said he thinks the state should put a greater priority on building a second bridge crossing to Douglas Island. "That would be a much better use for Juneau's transportation dollars," Leghorn said.

He said the bridge would have a greater economic benefit, opening west Douglas to residential and business expansion, a new deepwater port and other economic projects.

Juneau residents appeared to be evenly split on the road, based on a 2003 household survey by the McDowell Group, a Juneau-based consulting firm. The majority of Skagway and Haines residents opposed the project, according to the study.

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

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