My Turn: Affordable transportation is an egalitarian imperative

Posted: Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Transportation is one of the core functions of government. This key responsibility was recognized as early as 1808 when President Thomas Jefferson's treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, recommended that the federal government subsidize the National Road, the first federally supported road in U.S. history. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson promoted a trans-Appalachian land link to unify the first states of a young, expanding America. Roads were essential to enhance the prosperity of struggling new states and fulfill the need for rapid, simple, and accessible transportation.

Nearly 200 years later, the Juneau Access project continues our government's commitment to simple, accessible and inexpensive transportation for all citizens.

The purpose of and need for the Juneau Access Improvements Project is to provide improved surface transportation to and from Juneau within the Lynn Canal corridor that will:

• provide the capacity to meet transportation demand in the corridor

• provide flexibility and improve opportunity to travel

• reduce travel times between Lynn Canal communities

• reduce state costs for transportation in the corridor

• reduce user costs for transportation in the corridor.

In 2000, it cost $306 for me and my three kids to take a car and travel round-trip to Haines on the ferry. This summer, that same trip on the fast ferry will cost $496. The Juneau-Skagway round-trip ferry ride pencils out for us at about $600 this summer. How many families can afford those fares? In five years' time, how much higher will the fares climb and how many more Alaskans will be denied the liberating pleasure of an inexpensive weekend away?

A road is an egalitarian piece of nonpartisan real estate open and accessible to all regardless of economic status. Virtually everyone could afford to travel in northern Southeast Alaska if we had a road.

Juneau generously funds public transit so residents enjoy half-hour bus service that is efficient, affordable, accessible and convenient. But the fair distribution of public resources should extend beyond our internal transportation network to our links to the region and the rest of the state. Because the ferry system in northern Lynn Canal has priced itself out of reach for most people, average Alaskans are denied efficient, affordable, accessible and convenient transportation within the Southeast region.

It is morally inconsistent to promote low-cost transportation within our borough but ignore transportation equity throughout the region. We will always need a functional ferry system to connect Southeast Alaska's island communities where it is not possible to have roads. But in northern Lynn Canal, where a road can be built and then operated and maintained for a fraction of the cost of ferries, the demands of equity and economic justice support the state's preferred alternative. The preferred alternative, a road up the east side of Lynn Canal, is simply the most accessible, economical transportation system possible for the Alaskans who will support and use the chosen system.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the act establishing the Department of Transportation in October 1966, he noted that, "Transportation has truly emerged as a significant part of our national life. As a basic force in our society, its progress must be accelerated so that the quality of our life can be improved."

Five years ago, many believed that transportation progress was possible with the fast ferry in northern Lynn Canal. Sadly, that has not happened. Now, our only hope for significant improvement rests with leaders with the moral courage to move forward on the road.

Just like Jefferson's first federally funded highway, the Juneau-Skagway road will increase economic activity and guarantee greater mobility. This will strengthen our communities, enhance our freedom and improve our overall quality of life. Let us grow, let us prosper and please, just let our people go.

• Paulette Simpson lives in Juneau and owns recreational property in Haines.

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