The community of Juneau needs to reach consensus on a preferred route for the North Douglas crossing that is practical and has a chance of successful completion. This project is needed to ensure the safety and long-range growth of our community.
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The project was stalled in 2005 because of cost constraints, with more than $2 million invested to date. The federal planning process, which requires completion of an environmental impact statement, or EIS, is complicated by the fact that the state owns the lands under consideration and the local community guides the need for the project. A long list of important issues must be resolved, including wetland protections, public safety and traffic efficiencies.
The state has recommended that Juneau focus its areas of study and omit alternatives it deems not feasible, which should make EIS cost effective enough to complete. Within a few years, if we cannot get the EIS completed, much of the work that has been done will be outdated and the time and money already spent on this project wasted.
The EIS for a North Douglas crossing considers a 9-mile area with 15 potential corridors from the end of Mendenhall peninsula to Salmon Creek. Three crossing areas were identified in the current EIS studies that best meet the purpose and needs of the project: Vanderbilt Hill Drive, Sunny Drive and Yandukin Drive. Anyone interested in the EIS or other work that has been done on this project should do a Web search for "North Douglas Crossing." Although several crossing areas may be desirable, they are not necessarily practical.
A bridge from Mendenhall peninsula would be so expensive - several hundred million dollars - that there is little to no hope to get it funded. A crossing of the highest valued wetlands of the Mendenhall flats, between the north end of the airport and Mendenhall peninsula, most likely would never be permitted since there are practical alternatives south of the airport. There is little chance that the crossing sites beyond the north end of the airport would survive the EIS process.
The furthest south alternative at Salmon Creek fails to meet several objectives of the project, one of these being to effectively serve the planned new growth areas on north and west Douglas.
The most practical crossings would involve building a road across the Mendenhall flats, with a short bridge across the Mendenhall Bar waterway at its narrowest point. These alternatives include Yandukin Drive, which would loop around (or under) the runway, Sunny Point, which would have the cost-savings advantage of a new intersection that is to be built this year, or Vanderbilt Hill, which would cross sand flats.
In order to not lose the work already invested in this project and to keep it moving forward, our community must make a choice on a practical crossing corridor. Making this choice will not circumvent any federal, state or local public process.
In the end, a community preferred alternative is a political statement, and one that should guide the completion of the EIS. It does not drive the EIS, but rather, we hope, provide focus and momentum.
Linda Thomas is the chairwoman of the mayor's task force, West Douglas Development Workgroup.
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