After decades of discussions and deliberations on the city's number one construction priority, the Juneau Committee of the Whole has taken another small step toward making the second Gastineau Channel crossing a reality.
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During its work session Monday night, the committee passed a resolution recommending Vanderbilt Hill Road as the preferred location for a second crossing to Douglas Island. The resolution, which must first go before the regular Assembly for consideration and public comment, also includes language that urges the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to pursue the project "with deliberate speed."
"This has been an issue that has been active and on the city agenda for at least 23 years," Mayor Bruce Botelho said.
The Committee of the Whole used information garnered from a city-funded study completed by the private consultant group Sheinberg and Associates that identified Vanderbilt Hill Road as the "community preferred alternative between Yandukin Drive and Vanderbilt Hill." The information was based on results of a community opinion survey as well as evaluation criteria that took into account impacts to the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge environment, resources and users; project costs; potential impacts on the airport; and effects on neighborhoods and property owners.
Assembly Member Randy Wanamaker said it was important for the committee to make a decision Monday night between the Yandukin Drive and Vanderbilt Hill options in order to move forward with the project.
"This crossing is supported by a great part of the community," he said.
A partial environmental impact statement on a second crossing was done in 2003 at a cost of several million dollars. That study needs to be completed, Wanamaker said.
"Until we have that EIS complete we can't move forward with obtaining funding," he said.
Assembly member Bob Doll said there was no need to make a decision Monday night or anytime soon because there is no federal or state money identified for the construction of the project.
Assembly member Sara Chambers said there are a number of concerns regarding the project still, particularly on the North Douglas side. But she said the concerns would remain regardless of the location chosen for the second crossing, so it is time for the city to continue to move forward with the high-priority project.
"If we don't take leadership, if we don't make a decision, it will be very difficult for others to move forward," Chambers said.
Assembly member Jeff Bush questioned the $52 million price tag for the Vanderbilt Hill Road alternative as being the least expensive option and suggested redoing the public survey portion with more accurate information on costs and potential impacts of the project.
"I'm afraid that what we are looking at is the preferred alternative of the consultants and not the preferred alternative of the community," he said.
Assembly member and lifelong Juneau resident Merrill Sanford, the Committee of the Whole chairman, said a second crossing has been identified as such a high-priority project because there is a great deal of land that could be developed on North Douglas.
Sanford said the resolution is another step in the right direction of a project that has been talked about for as long as he can remember.
"I think it's just another step in the process," he said. "Even if we can identify the funds to finish the EIS, it is probably a minimum of three more years of work and study and another probably 3 or 4 million dollars."
Even if the work on a comprehensive environmental impact statement for a second crossing resumed today, it would likely be another decade before a second crossing could be built, Sanford said.
"We're not even close to being there," he said. "But I think that every step and every action we do in order to get to that end result is a positive thing and something we need to work for, otherwise it will sit in limbo forever and ever."
Sanford said he expects the resolution will be on the agenda for the next regular Assembly meeting at 7 p.m. on June 25 at City Hall.
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com or 523-2269.