I would like to extend congratulations to Reps. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, Paul Seaton, R-Homer, Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who recently presented the House Finance Committee co-chairmen with a letter requesting that funds designated for the Juneau access road project be reappropriated to the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Anyone who deals with budgets knows that it is a zero sum game; funding one project will undoubtedly come at the cost of other priorities. State funding for the Juneau road does in fact mean less funding for our ferry system as well as other road needs.
The bipartisan authors of the letter have no intention of pitting road development against marine highway development in a way that does not already exist. They simply wish to reverse current trends by cutting funding for the "cost-as-yet-not-determined" road and instead providing support for the ferry system.
I agree with them wholeheartedly. Benefits of the road extension that ends at a new ferry terminal 90 miles north of Juneau are less than obvious, especially considering that cost estimates from the Department of Transportaton that continue to rise.
Instead of putting our effort and dollars toward such a tenuous project, we should support the framework we already have: the Alaska Marine Highway System.
With proper planning, funding, and care, the AMHS could become an incredibly effective, safe, low-impact, and efficient transportation service. Why drop one transportation system that (while in dire need of funding and reorganization) has been a proven service for Southeast Alaskans in favor of a new, risky project?
I, for one, would rather curl up in my sleeping bag and watch the Northern Lights from the deck of a ferry at 3 a.m. than drive through avalanche territory at that same hour.