Canadians pitch ideas for cross-border links

B.C. official says transportation funding is not a federal priority

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2005

Canadian and Alaska officials talked about new cross-border routes for planes, trains, automobiles and even fiber optic-cable, during a session in Juneau on Wednesday.

British Columbia economic boosters told members of the Southeast Conference, assembled for their three-day, mid-legislative-session meeting, that they want to improve their connections to Alaska.

The bad news, said one of the speakers, is that transportation funding is simply not a federal priority in Ottawa.

"It's just not on the radar screen," said Graham Kedgley, executive director of the Northwest Corridor Development Corporation, a nonprofit group in Prince Rupert that advocates for a trade route from the Midwestern United States through Alberta to ports in Kitimat, Stewart and Prince Rupert.

A big difference between Canadian and U.S. residents is that Canadians are less interested in transportation than health, education and social services, he said. "When you talk transport, people's eyes glaze over," Kedgley said.

Nevertheless, Canadian boosters and provincial government officials mentioned several routes on their wish list - routes they said would help Southeast Alaska.

A Yukon official said he is studying the potential for a fiber-optic loop from Whitehorse to other communities in Alaska and Canada. Installing a land-based loop could improve broadband service in Whitehorse, Haines and Skagway, said Joe Bradley, an economic specialist with the Yukon territorial government.

Bradley also put in a plug for Alaska's proposed $281 million Juneau-to-Skagway road. "By the way, the ferry system is wonderful, but it would be nice to drive all the way down."

None of the Canadians mentioned Alaska's proposed $284 million Bradfield Road from the Wrangell area into Canada. Many British Columbia residents oppose the road.

J.C. Conley, chairman of Alaska's Marine Transportation Advisory Board, said British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has stated the only reason the road is "on the burner" in Canada is because Gov. Frank Murkowski is pushing for it.

One of the reasons Canadians are skeptical of the Bradfield road is that they fear a corresponding end to mainline ferry service into Prince Rupert. But the governor is proposing a shuttle ferry to Prince Rupert, Conley said.

A big item on the Canadians' wish list is a container port in Prince Rupert, which could reduce the distance for barging Canadian imports - such as barley for Juneau's Alaska Brewing Co. - by 500 miles, Kedgley said.

Currently, those products are barged from Seattle, he said.

Regarding plane traffic between Canada and Alaska, Kedgley said, "It is absolutely rubbish that we don't have a flight out of Vancouver to your part of the word."

But it will probably take quite a bit of time to achieve those goals, he added. "We are not the government."

Jeannette James, a state advisor for the Canada-Alaska railroad project, and Len Ginnever, an engineering consultant in Prince George, spoke about the slow progress for the project.

"It's back on track again, no pun intended," said James, who mentioned recent support for the project from Campbell, the British Columbia premier.

Ginnever said he anticipates a major announcement about the rail project in British Columbia in three weeks.

"It's a lot further advanced than people think," he said.

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