My Turn: Don't disfigure Lynn Canal for an unnecessary road

Posted: Monday, May 05, 2008

As an adventurer and explorer who has spent a lot of time accessing mountains along the east coastline of the upper Lynn Canal, it has become obvious to me that the state of Alaska's leadership has either chosen to ignore both professional and amateur assessments of the technical nightmare presented by this product, or they are not being properly informed of the material compiled, which obviously displays a plethora of drawbacks.

The mythical "center line" established last year by the Department of Transportation is basically no more than a "We've seen it at eye level" gesture. Higher echelon bureaucrats who will be taking the responsibility for the excessive cost and inevitable drawbacks which will plague this project should take a ride in a small boat and even try to walk a part of this coastline before considering moving ahead.

This has always been the problem, the people who need to experience the insanity by checking out the scene never seem to get to the locations in question. They simply rely on information the "planners" want them to see.

The assumption that this will be a "coastal" afternoon drive couldn't be more iniquitous. It will feel like more of a mountain highway with a series of major cliffs dropping into the sea to have to deal with, either by drilling and shooting tunnels or cutting switchbacks up the steep mountainside. Winter maintenance will be horrendous and require resources from other venues, which already are lacking in manpower, equipment and funding to keep our existing road systems operational.

I worked with DOT during the construction of the Klondike Highway as a surveyor and inspector. We staked centerline up through the notorious "Boulder Field" and the "Slabs of doom," which required ropes and harnesses. As a surveyor, I soon realized that yes, a road certainly can be built anywhere depending on the tenacity of the builders and unlimited funding.

But this comparison I've heard of the proposed road to the Klondike Highway is laughable. The terrain is more unstable geologically and subject to endless avalanches and washouts. The construction aspect will be more extreme and physically demanding.

The Klondike was also built for around $1 million a mile and had a predicted death count of two, which was a reality in the end. It was also only a seven-mile road and took three years to build.

As a businessman in Haines, I have always considered the upper Lynn Canal as a national treasure that should never be disfigured, especially when we have a world class ferry system that visitors from around the world love to ride. These visitors endlessly voice their awesome admiration of the beautiful ferry ride underneath the towering mountains.

Any true Alaskan who respects and cherishes our great state should never consider disfiguring one of our features so popular and unique to the rest of the world. We owe it to our future generations to not forsake this 40 miles of coastline, or they will look back at us as being thoughtless and badly governed.

• John Svenson is a resident of Haines and former surveyor and inspector during the construction of the Klondike Highway.

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