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To date, nearly $5 million has been spent on an environmental impact statement regarding road access from Juneau to Skagway. To complete the study will take an estimated two years and another $2 million.
Opponents of the proposed $230 million road say it's a waste of money to complete the study. That's primarily because Gov. Tony Knowles earlier announced plans to use $35 million for ferries instead. Knowles made that decision, he said, based on a lack of funding, public support and strong environmental opposition to the road.
Instead, the governor said a future administration could finish up the impact study. Maybe. Federal highway officials say the state must complete the study now or drop the project altogether. They've also hinted the state might have to cough up and repay the money already spent on the study if work does not progress.
While we support the idea of fast ferries to improve access in Lynn Canal and Juneau, we see it as a temporary solution. There aren't enough fast ferries around to handle the traffic.
Five former state Department of Transportation regional directors, in a recent Letter to the Editor, pointed out the Lynn Canal corridor is ``the most serious transportation bottleneck in Alaska.'' According to them, traffic demand is more than 200,000 vehicles, yet for 10 years only 30,000 vehicles have used the existing ferry system annually.
``Since no other option can meet the traffic demand, provide affordable service for users, reduce state operating and maintenance costs as effectively as the road, we believe it is prudent to complete the EIS process,'' the former directors said.
We agree. And we also agree with city officials who want the environmental study completed so the project can get on the list for federal highway funds. We have an incredibly powerful congressional delegation and it's foolish not to complete this study while we have the opportunity to get funding.
Regardless of one's view of the road, isn't it prudent to at least complete the study and see where we stand?