My turn: Juneau needs road's benefits

Posted: Friday, April 11, 2008

During the October 2000 election, the question asked was "Which of the following do you support for improving access from Juneau north: (a) enhanced ferry service or (b) a road."

A total of 5,840 residents were for enhanced ferry service and 5,761 were for building a road. Nowhere did it state that 5,840 residents were against the road, just that 79 more people would like to see improved ferry service.

Since 2000, the realization that nothing has been done to enhance ferry connections, convenience or reduce the expense of riding or operating the ferry system has led to polls that show between 63 percent and 68 percent of Juneau residents are in favor of a road out of Juneau. This is not a conspiracy against the ferry system as portrayed by opponents. It is a reality that nothing is going to change except to get worse.

For example, if you take the ferry out of Juneau this summer you must either spend a night in Haines or Skagway both coming and going or drive over the connecting roads between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. That's good for hotels in Haines and Skagway but not for people trying to get to the Alaska Highway.

Opponents paint pro-road people as anti-ferry, but as a member of Citizens Pro Road I have heard nothing but support for the system and freeing up the equivalent of 1.5 ferries to serve other areas of Southeast Alaska.

We all know our neighbors need better service. Maybe they should ask what their legislative delegations, Juneau's included, have done to improve the system in the last eight years. Would they have better service if we had built the road in the last eight years so they could use the Malaspina to service their communities? Of course.

Opponents also portray the increase in road costs, originally estimated at $250 million, to now cost up to $1 billion without any supporting facts. Engineers now estimate a cost of $350 to $500 million. These same people use original estimates of building a new ferry ($200 million), when present estimates run $350 - $500 million.

The road itself is not an engineering problem. Visit any national park in the West and you will see more difficult projects that were built without modern technology.

Would you rather spend $500 million providing construction jobs for the residents of Juneau, Haines and Skagway for five years or spend the same amount providing jobs for another state or country to build a ferry for Lynn Canal?

Hundreds of residents have attended fundraising dinners and many more have contributed out of their own pockets to fund informative pamphlets in favor of the road. Not one dollar has come from outside Juneau, Haines or Skagway. Opponents rely on money from outside donations by individuals who own nothing in Juneau. The last Southeast Alaska Conservation Council anti-road spokesperson left town after a few years to live elsewhere, leaving us where we were in 2000.

Juneau and the surrounding villages are slowly withering with "anti-everything" people stopping all development that may provide a year-round economic base and reduce transportation costs.

Where are the kids going to come from to fill up our high school? They won't be here unless their parents have full-time, year-round, well paying jobs.

Tourism is a great thing, but five months a year providing out-of-state kids with jobs is a supplement to an economy not an economic future.

What have our Assembly, mayor and legislative delegation done since 2000? Has transportation become more convenient, more reliable or cheaper? No. Are there any new ferries being built? No. Could the road have been built and operational in the eight years that have passed? Yes.

The sad thing is that the people who should be leading the fight to provide better and cheaper access to Juneau and the rest of Southeast Alaska are doing nothing. There are two Assembly members coming up for election who are against road access. It is time to replace them with members who are looking to Juneau's future. People who realize that Juneau needs reliable, cheaper and more convenient transportation to have a future.

• Tim Whiting is a lifelong Juneau resident who, until two years ago, made two trips a year to the Whitehorse area every year but quit due to transportation problems.



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