The Juneau Empire's Opinions page is a great place for people to espouse their opinions on the many and varied issues of concern to Southeast Alaska residents.
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Readers should be cautious, however, regarding statements based on assumptions and opinions about official publications or on unstated sources.
Steve Vick's column Friday states some numbers in regard to the Lynn Canal Highway, but he does not cite the exact source for these numbers. And he did not contact the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to obtain or verify any of his figures. Vick also incorrectly characterizes parts of a DOT report.
While Vick is entitled to his opinion, the department would like all readers to have access to the most current information regarding this matter.
The report by Golder Associates is a preliminary geo-technical report of the proposed Lynn Canal Highway alignment from Independence Creek to the Katzehin River. As the report indicates, its purpose is to characterize existing soil and rock conditions and geologic hazards to develop the highway design.
Although the report indicates that mega-boulders are frequent and widespread in some areas, it does not state this is a concern for safe operation of the highway. Numerous mega-boulders occurred along the alignment of the Klondike Highway, but they have not been a danger to travelers because they were dealt with during construction.
The report does not state that tunnels and snow sheds are needed, rather it identifies three locations where tunnels or alignment changes should be evaluated, and states that some avalanche zones may require snow sheds. The final environmental impact statement addressed this issue when it stated snow sheds or road closures would be necessary, and based on costs and winter-travel demand, closures would be used.
The Golder report does not undermine the conclusions of the final impact statement; it provides more detail than was available at the time of environmental investigations. (The Golder report is available on the DOT Southeast region's Web site in the documents section of Juneau access.)
Contrary to Vick's statement, DOT has not revised the projected cost for the project from $258 million to $320 million, or any other number. Federal regulations require that a new cost estimate for a project of this size be prepared annually. A new cost estimate will be completed in the next few weeks. It is true that construction costs are rising rapidly in the nation and Alaska in particular. Consequently, the new estimate for this project will inevitably be higher.
It is important to note that this increase in construction costs, which is driven in part by inflation in the cost of petroleum products and steel, also is increasing the cost of operating the ferry system as well as the cost of ferry refurbishment and replacement. The high cost of ferry operations is one of the factors driving surface transportation planning toward highway links and shorter ferry runs. The same lack of available highway funds will affect Alaska Marine Highway System improvements. Furthermore, the disproportionately high cost of ferry operations to the state general fund will not go away.
While at times its decisions will be controversial, DOT will continue to strive to meet its statutory mission based on the best financial and transportation information available.
Malcolm A. Menzies is Southeast regional director of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
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