My turn: Parallel Lynn Canal highway makes no sense

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Department of Transportation has been drilled by legislators for the past few weeks over the expected decline in federal money for transportation in Alaska and the ferry schedule. I don't understand how the DOT can constantly use the entire troubled ferry system's financial problems to support their own agenda - building a ridiculously expensive dead-end road to a new ferry terminal.

The state's own documents show that eliminating the Lynn Canal ferry run and building a road and ferry in its place wouldn't save the state any money. DOT has publicly admitted they don't have the slightest clue of the real cost of this road ("Road coast unclear..." in the Juneau Empire on Nov. 11, 2007).

This mega boondoggle project will likely cost closer to $1 billion, with its numerous tunnels, elevated highways, maintenance facility and two enormous bridges (the Berners Bay bridge and Katzehin River Delta bridge). The maintenance of this road and its 31 avalanche paths, 42 debris flows and 112 geological hazards spread along the entire 50 miles will surely outspend the simple Lynn Canal ferry run.

Users of this proposed highway would have to unload at Auke Bay, perhaps in the middle of the night, drive some 80 miles on a slow, winding, possibly not even open road, wait and reload at the Katzehin terminal, ferry across Lynn Canal to Haines or Skagway and then wait to unload. What a nightmare. Why bother with a highway when ferries go all the way?

Let's stop misleading and confusing the public and the state about the truth of this project.

Sensible transportation should be a modern example of efficiency and organization within the Alaska Marine Highway System, uniting and strengthening all of Southeast and the rest of the state.

We could start by expanding and improving Ketchikan's dry-dock, shipyard and marine highway headquarters. Ketchikan could be a leader in the state and possibility the country by being a center for state-of-the-art maintenance, shipbuilding and manufacturing of underwater turbines for alternative energy.

With a reliable and fully funded ferry system, it would only strengthen Juneau as a major hub for all of Southeast's needs, such as health care, retail and service. Having a Malaspina-class ferry running exclusively in Lynn Canal twice a day in summer and once a day in winter would meet the community needs of Juneau, Haines and Skagway. With the Fairweather now running to Sitka, Petersburg and Juneau, the ferry system will unite the five communities and strengthen Juneau's economic future.

We can work on maintaining and improving what we already have, bringing older and narrower roads up to modern codes, with pedestrian and bike paths. Maybe the DOT could look more closely into alternative transportation, such as a network of bike paths, linking the community together. The Brotherhood Bridge path and the improvements to Herbert Glacier Trail are good examples of simple, low-cost projects that people enjoy on a regular basis. There would be a total increase in recreational activity, such as running, biking and walking.

It makes absolutely no sense to build a Lynn Canal Highway paralleling the Lynn Canal Marine Highway.

Let's improve on what we have here in Juneau and in the rest of Southeast, instead of building a ridiculous, unpopular, expensive highway to the middle of nowhere. It would probably be closed in the winter anyway - back to ferries.

• Mike Miller is a Juneau resident.

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