Road alternative costs travelers less than ferry system

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Alaska Marine Highway System has averaged about 30,000 vehicles per year for the last 20 years in Northern Lynn Canal. All the communities surrounding this route (Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Whitehorse) have experienced population growth during this time. All highways in the vicinity of these communities have shown traffic increases. There is a need to move more vehicles and passengers in Northern Lynn Canal.

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The stumbling block is the inability of the marine highway system to move more vehicles through this corridor. More frequent service has not been the answer, as the department has tried with no increase in traffic. The costs to the traveling public have been the main obstacle.

The cost to ferry an average of 30,000 vehicles per year to Skagway, using today's fares, amounts to $7.11 million.

The final environmental impact statement for Juneau road alternative 2B shows that the same 30,000 vehicles traveling to Skagway would spend $1.53 million (in 2004 dollars). This would save the traveling pubic $5.58 million per year. This cannot be ignored.

By the way, the highway users would use less fuel. The fast ferry Fairweather burns 2,100 gallons of fuel to transport a maximum of 35 cars from Juneau to Skagway. Those same 35 cars could drive to Skagway and burn less than 200 gallons of fuel.

Because a road is open 24 hours a day, alternative 2B would accommodate the greatest travel demand of any of the alternatives and provide the most flexibility for Alaska families and individuals who could travel at any time of the year. Juneau is already the commercial and service hub for northern Southeast Alaska. A road will provide significant social and economic benefits to the entire region, well into the future.

A road is a permanent infrastructure that increases the value of the land it makes accessible. A road would be a major economic asset that would increase independent tourism to the region and give businesses on both ends of the route the ability to move products more quickly at less expense.

The future of the marine highway system, with its current deficit spending, is in doubt. The system today is losing about $75 million per year. Although the Northern Lynn Canal run is one of the most heavily traveled routes, it still loses about $5 million per year. The Juneau access road would eliminate this loss and allow the ferry system to provide better service throughout the rest of the system.

• Sandy Williams is a resident of Douglas.

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