Alaska Department of Transportation's construction cost estimates for the Skagway road are unrealistic. A former Alaska DOT planner has stated that a Skagway road cannot be built for $265 million. Alaska DOT's cost estimates for road maintenance are equally unrealistic. DOT's maintenance cost estimates do not adequately address the avalanches that thunder down the mountains along Lynn Canal every winter, the heavy fall rains and winter freeze/thaws, which may well lead to landslides and road closures.
Washington state's 30 years of experience with State Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway, may give us a glimpse of what could be in store for a road out of Juneau.
Heavy snows close the road annually, usually between late November and April. In 2003 the highway was closed Oct. 17. The early closure was due to heavy autumn rains, causing floods which eroded the roadway and overwhelmed culverts and drainage systems. Flooding also caused several large sections of road to buckle and collapse. Within three weeks of the flooding, a massive rockslide crashed into the highway. Then the snow fell.
Washington State Department of Transportation (WDOT) does not know what it will cost to clear and rebuild the highway. One culvert replacement alone will cost between $150,000 and $185,000.
How can the state of Alaska justify the almost certain construction and maintenance costs overruns for a likely seasonal road out of Juneau when Alaska has other more pressing transportation needs?
If the road out of Juneau is built, how long will it be before we will be asking why the highway was built in the first place?
For more information about the 2003 Washington State Highway 20 closure see http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/northcascades/.