My turn: Information misinterpreted in anti-access road column

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2008

It is unfortunate that in Roman Motyka's April 22 attempt to "decipher" Department of Transportation & Public Facilities reports, he managed to misinterpret or misstate several important pieces of information.

With regard to the stated 112 geologic hazards and 61 avalanche paths, it is important to note that there are 94 geologic hazards and 36 avalanche paths that affect the proposed highway alignment. Furthermore, 32 of the identified geologic hazards occur within the avalanche paths. In fact, 24 of the Class A hazards occur within identified avalanche paths and were already addressed in the preliminary design by a combination of bridges, large culverts, and raised embankments.

The final Environmental Impact Statement and Snow Avalanche Report both indicate the highway would be closed for avalanche safety reasons an average of 34 days per year, with the average closure lasting two days. The estimated closure time is not based only on times the highway would be closed by snow on the road. The estimate specifically includes the longer periods of time when, based on a conservative approach, the highway would be closed because heavy snowfall is anticipated or low visibility precludes assessment of snow pack stability.

It is therefore incorrect to state that additional closures due to heavy snowfall and bad visibility would close the highway for significant portions of the winter season.

DOT&PF has never suggested that a "nest egg" of $1 billion be set aside for the Lynn Canal Highway, nor does our estimate approach that amount. The current estimate to complete the project (which takes into account the Golder Report) is $350 million including two new shuttles.

Motyka appears to be confused about the Alaska Transportation Fund, a proposal to set up a revenue stream that would fund transportation projects throughout the state, including highways, ferries, airports, harbors, and local roads. DOT&PF has not suggested this fund, if approved, would be used for the Lynn Canal Highway, nor does the project financial plan rely on approval of this fund.

The projected travel time to Haines on the East Lynn Canal Highway is 2.5 hours including load, transit, and unload time for the shuttle ferry.

Motyka understates the current Auke Bay to Haines travel times. Trips to Haines by conventional monohull ferries take seven hours including the required check-in time, loading, transit, and unloading. The final EIS reported fast ferry travel time to Haines at 3.5 hours, using the minimum (but not recommended) check-in time of one hour.

Motyka should continue to be impressed by the Alaska Marine Highway System, because it continues to provide surface transportation links in Southeast and Southwest Alaska despite an aging fleet and rising costs.

Detractors like to cite a lack of competence or a sinister conspiracy to reduce service to garner support for highways. The truth, however, is that sailings in Lynn Canal have doubled since 1994 when the Juneau access project began.

DOT&PF is working to improve the ferry system, and has identified road extensions and shorter ferry runs as the best way to provide service that is efficient, convenient, and affordable.

• Malcolm A Menzies is director of the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities Southeast region.

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