Goldbelt has postponed a project to extend North Douglas Highway to the west side of Douglas Island, opting instead to push for federal funding of a second crossing of Gastineau Channel.
Although Congress earmarked more than $2 million for the highway project, Goldbelt has backed off, saying the federal government is just demanding more studies.
Last night, Assembly member Don Etheridge jump-started the issue, saying the Assembly should ask the feds to reallocate the money for an environmental impact statement on a second crossing, linking North Douglas to the mainland.
"The West Douglas road extension has lost its momentum," said Etheridge. "There's nothing happening at this time."
The project was to be a joint effort by the city and Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation. Goldbelt was looking to develop housing and possibly tourist facilities on West Douglas, and the city had designated the area for new growth to increase the availability of housing in Juneau. The project involved about 1,700 acres of Goldbelt land and 3,400 acres of city land.
The federal government appropriated about $2 million for the project, contingent on the city and Goldbelt each giving $250,000 in matching funds. The city kicked in its share, but Goldbelt Executive Vice President Dave Goade said the company backed off after learning the feds wanted another environmental study done and that it probably would cost the entire $2 million.
"We started to get very discouraged ... how much more money can we keep spending on studies?" said Goade, noting Goldbelt already has issued a half dozen environmental studies on the project and that the state completed an environmental impact statement. "We thought it was actually going to go toward construction."
In response, Goldbelt has shifted gears. Goade said the company has endorsed using the federal money to study a second crossing, saying that project would help Goldbelt, too. Goade said West Douglas development would put more cars on already-crowded North Douglas Highway, and it makes sense to pursue a second crossing first.
"If all that traffic were to go across the second crossing and join with Egan and head into town, it makes a lot more sense to do that than try to push all that traffic down North Douglas Highway."
Goade said Alaska's congressional delegation probably could nail down funding for only one project at a time. The company still needs another $15 million to $20 million from Congress to extend the road. Goldbelt met with city officials earlier this year and agreed to pursue federal support of the second crossing first, Goade said.
"If we have a chance of getting one, I would prefer we focus our energies and abilities on the second crossing first since it's already been studied a lot," said Goade, adding the West Douglas project is temporarily shelved, not dead.
The city studied the idea of a second crossing in the early 1980s, and singled out a preferred site running from Egan Drive near Fred Meyer to North Douglas Highway at Fish Creek Road, also called Eaglecrest Road. However, the city could chose a different location.
Assembly member Etheridge said the city should act now to fund the study, so it's in hand if Congress ever appropriates construction dollars for a second crossing.
Mayor Sally Smith said the Assembly will consider a resolution on the issue at its next meeting.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.