What's Up Wth that

Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2002

Q: My 6-year-old son wants to know what's up with the creepy wooden door built into the hillside between the Goldbelt Hotel and the State Office Building archives office on Willoughby Avenue.

A: I believe we answered that one a while back, but we'll revisit it. The door guards a tunnel through the rocky hillside. It had been considered as a public shortcut, a pedestrian tunnel under Telephone Hill, but authorities feared loose rock from the ceiling might endanger walkers. So, at present, the tunnel is used as a shortcut for light and power cables, but nothing else. The door is there to keep it from being used as a sleeping spot for street people.

Q: We all know about the current Juneau road-out-of-town debate. But I'd like to know how and when the existing state road system came to be. Who decided that Glacier Highway would end at Echo Cove, and why? When was the road completed to that point? The same goes for North Douglas Highway and Thane Road.

A: This isn't a complete answer, but it goes a long way toward supplying the information you requested.

Glacier Highway gradually squirmed its way out from downtown. It used to end at the Nugget Creek powerhouse, completed in 1914 within a stone's throw of the face of the Mendenhall Glacier. (The powerhouse was demolished in the early 1960s.) Until the early 1970s, the road ended at Eagle Beach. Then it was extended to Echo Cove, with the plan that eventually it would connect to another town in Southeast Alaska.

According to Pat Kemp, preconstruction engineer with the Department of Transportation, Glacier Highway was completed to Echo Cove in 1972. "The reason it went out there was for access for a proposed pulp mill to be built by U.S. Plywood, and for a shuttle ferry link to the north side of Lynn Canal," Kemp said.

The mill was never built, but the shuttle ferry link comes up for discussion now and again. One of the most recent discussions of extending this road occurred when Coeur Alaska announced in November it was restructuring its plans for the Kensington mine, a multi-mineral, hard-rock mining operation proposed for 45 miles north of downtown Juneau.

North Douglas Highway gradually extended out from the mining town of Douglas as homes were built, and especially after the first Douglas Bridge went up connecting Douglas Island to the mainland in 1935. "North Douglas went to about Fish Creek in the 1950s," Kemp said. "In the 1950s and 1960s we had quite a plan to build a road all the way around the island." The road was extended a bit at a time, as funds became available.

Kemp said that the last time North Douglas Highway was extended was in 1973, when it reached just past the popular shore fishing area near Outer Point.

Thane Road was originally a mining road created in 1915 or 1916 when the mine at Thane was operating, said mine historian David Stone. "Otherwise, the only access to Thane was by ferry or small boat. Originally it was a wood plank road along the beach. It ran from South Franklin Street all the way to Sheep Creek. After the mine shut down, the road was moved to a higher location," away from tidal effects. The road was extended to its present length in the 1950s, Stone said.

Extensions have been proposed lately to service a possible heliport at Dupont.

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