Budget bill has money for fast ferries, roads

Juneau projects include 2nd crossing study, Egan changes

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

A public works projects bill that passed out of the House Finance Committee on Tuesday includes two appropriations of $5 million to study road, ferry and bridge projects in Juneau and restores $63 million to build two high-speed ferries for Southeast.

The fate of the public works budget, also known as the capital budget, is uncertain due to Gov. Frank Murkowski's promise to cut up to $47.8 million from the bill through line-item vetoes. Murkowski's plan to cut the budget is in response to the Legislature's unwillingness to institute a 3 percent statewide sales tax.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, said every project in the bill is in jeopardy.

"This isn't the capital budget," Kerttula said. "We don't know what he's going to cut."

Murkowski spokesman John Manly said he is unsure which projects in the public works budget are slated for cuts. But with the specific number of $47.8 million, Manly said the administration probably already knows which projects will be eliminated.

State Budget Director Cheryl Frasca could not be reached for comment by the Empire's evening deadline.

Manly said once the public works budget is passed by the Legislature, the bill will be sent to Murkowski by June 10. The governor will have 20 days to determine where he will use his line-item veto to cut projects.

One of the $5 million appropriations in the budget will be used for the Juneau Access Project. That project is not likely to be cut because it is funded by the federal government, and cutting it would not save the state any money.

The project was restarted by Gov. Frank Murkowski in December to study transportation alternatives in Upper Lynn Canal and could result in construction of a road between Juneau and Skagway or enhanced ferry service between the two communities.

The other $5 million in federal funds will be used to study a second Gastineau Channel crossing between the mainland and Douglas Island.

The House version of the public works bill also restores $63 million for high-speed ferries.

The money will be used to build one high-speed ferry to run between Juneau and Petersburg and another to run between Ketchikan, Wrangell and Mitkof Island.

Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican who has opposed building the high-speed ferries, removed the $68 million from the Senate version of the public works budget, directing it to be used for ferries, terminals and connector roadways. The House Finance Committee restored $63 million for the high-speed ferries, sending only $5 million to ferries, terminals and connector roadways.

The House version of the bill also sets aside $300,000 for improvements to Egan Drive between Whittier Street and Main Street. The Senate version of the bill included an additional $300,000 to widen the intersection of Egan Drive and 10th Street, but the appropriation was removed in the House version.

Once the House passes the public works bill it will be sent back to the Senate for concurrence. If the Senate does not agree to the House changes, the bills will go to a conference committee where members from both bodies will work out the differences.

Other Juneau-specific projects in the public works bill include:

• $415,000 for sludge incinerator repairs to the Juneau-Douglas Treatment Plant.

• $20,000 to expand the Juneau Family Birth Center.

• $160,000 to the Southeast Conference for Intertie Planning and Organization.

• $750,000 for water and sewer replacement in Douglas.

• $44,000 to recarpet the fifth floor of Dimond Courthouse.

• $17 million for Auke Bay Terminal modifications.

• $380,000 for a van to transport the disabled.

• $35,000 for the Juneau Asbestos Hazards Project.

• $325,500 for deferred building maintenance.

• $149,500 for essential building repairs.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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