The recent completion of the Department of Transportation's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and series of public hearings on Juneau Access Improvements bring to a head the long-standing controversy over building the road to Skagway versus improving ferry service.
The EIS is excellent. It discusses most of the factors needed to reach a rational decision. But DOT reaches the wrong conclusion as to its preferred alternative, based on the facts: an expensive high-maintenance road that would be closed for extended periods in winter and is opposed by a majority of residents of Juneau, Haines and Skagway.
The EIS has a misleading statement on the first page of the introduction summary, misquoting former Gov. Tony Knowles as endorsing the road alternative. Not true. In an open letter to Alaskans dated Jan. 28, 2000, Gov. Knowles wrote: "Improved ferry service will best meet Alaskans' need in North Lynn Canal" and "at best, the soonest a road would be available would be 8 to 10 years, and support for a road from affected communities is far from unanimous. Building a road now is also infeasible because of the $240 million price tag. That single project would consume a huge piece of the state's entire annual transportation program funding and delay other important projects."
Gov. Knowles' assessment is just as valid today, and DOT should have reached the same conclusion from an objective analysis of the facts.
One factor that has not been adequately addressed is the advantage of retaining the Auke Bay ferry terminal location, 14 miles from town.
DOT's Alternatives 4-B and D would move the terminal to Sawmill Cove, 46 miles from town. Consider how much extra driving time, vehicle fuel, road maintenance costs, ferry crew and road transportation costs would be required. Foot passengers, usually dropped off or picked up by friends or family, would especially be inconvenienced by moving the terminal to Sawmill Cove.
We already have an excellent marine highway, with an upgraded ferry terminal at Auke Bay, and addition of two fast ferries (Alternative 4-A) would provide daily, convenient, safe year-round service at a saving of $7 million less than the "road" option over a 30-year period.
The state should concentrate on improving ferry service to Juneau, Haines and Skagway rather than pursuing an expensive environmentally damaging road boondoggle that most Lynn Canal travelers don't want.
Ted Merrell Sr.
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