Panel offers proposals for 2nd crossing

Project hasn't been priced yet but could cost tens of millions

Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The city of Juneau should spend $1.5 million to move forward a Gastineau Channel bridge crossing to north Douglas Island, according to a city-appointed task force.

The West Douglas Development Working Group presented a list of six priorities for the channel's second crossing, which has languished for 20 years, to the city's Committee of the Whole on Monday night.

The bridge doesn't have a price tag yet but could cost tens of millions of dollars.

"It has become more of an immediate need, lately," due to Juneau's land squeeze, said Linda Thomas, chairwoman of the task force.

She said the prospects for federal funding are "encouraging" because Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has taken it up as his third-highest priority bridge project in Alaska.

The state Department of Transportation has indicated the city needs to provide matching funds for the bridge, Thomas said.

City council member Randy Wanamaker quizzed Thomas about whether the bridge could divert attention or resources from the $281 million Juneau Access Project.

Thomas said that's unlikely, because the bridge is a much smaller budget item than the state's other "mega-projects" that would cost hundreds of millions.

In her report, Thomas said the state so far has spent $1.4 million on the project. Though some funds may remain, they aren't enough to complete the impact statement, she said.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is expected to publish its own update on the bridge project by next week.

Selecting a final location for the bridge will pose some environmental and land-use challenges.

Most of the 14 bridge crossings locations identified by the city in 1984 would cross the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

Also, Juneau International Airport is looking to expand its own footprint in the refuge, which could conflict with two or three of the city's proposed crossings.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said north Douglas is a "high value" area for residents and he directed the task force to talk to neighborhood associations and environmental groups about the kind of development that could occur there.

He said he would assign city staff members to review the task force's funding request and its other five priorities.

Those include:

• Setting deadlines to complete the state's environmental impact statement by December 2007 and finishing the bridge by December 2010.

• Adopting the city's and Goldbelt Corp.'s 1997 conceptual plan for west Douglas.

• Adopting a city resolution in favor of completing the environmental study and determining a city-preferred location for the bridge crossing.

• Directing city staff to work with state transportation officials on moving the bridge project forward.

• Providing funds to the task force to help it advertise the project to legislators, investors and the public.

Though the state has put the bridge on hold for years, Thomas said there is some urgency. She said the state must pay back the federal government the money it has already spent on the project's environmental impact statement if progress isn't made in 10 years.

Thomas said the task force so far has talked to some local businesses and the U.S. Coast Guard, which has expressed some interest in relocating its Juneau station to north Douglas if the bridge is developed.

She said the group is also trying to arrange a meeting with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, during an upcoming trip to Anchorage.

In a proposed federal highway bill that may receive final congressional approval Tuesday, about $8 million is earmarked for the bridge, Botelho said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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