After attending the meeting of the planning commission on July 6 and reading numerous letters to the editor, I am completely awestruck by the current status of the debate over the road out of town.
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I absolutely cannot believe that anyone is taking this current proposition seriously. The proposed road doesn't go anywhere. We are being asked to accept irrevocable damage to a 40-mile stretch of some of the most beautiful coastline in the world - and the associated lost tourism revenue - and for what? To be able to drive for another hour before we get on a ferry? That's the big payoff for the public?
Some folks rightly point out how ridiculously difficult and expensive it is to get out of Juneau, and some think that the proposed road will solve this problem. Back when we were actually going to build a road to another town, they had a point. This used to be a debate of environmental impact, community impact, and public safety vs. convenience of travel and economic development. Both sides had real concerns and logical arguments, and a person's stance on the issue was pretty much determined by their own very personal and basic values.
Now, things are a bit different, and both sides of this debate ought to be feeling a little confused. The environmental impacts are still there, the safety concerns are certainly still there, but what about the rest of it? Community impact, convenient travel, a potential influx of lucrative development opportunities - all of these points are now moot, simply because it's not going to be any easier to get into or out of town. We're all still going to have to take the ferry, for God's sake. It's just going to be a lot longer drive to the terminal.
This whole change of plans seems to make little sense at first. Has Gov. Murkowski just gone totally off his rocker? Does anybody benefit from this idea? Well, yes, someone does benefit. As happy coincidence would have it, this road will pass right by the new mine. Synchronicity at its best. Love the mine or hate it, it's not the public's job to pay the expenses of a private business.
Bottom line: Whether you support a road out of town or you don't, the current plan isn't going to give you what you want. We need to take the concerns of pro-road people seriously: It's not possible to travel to or from this town unless you spend a lot of money, and I'm certainly open to ideas that would change that. If we're serious about this problem, and we can't build a road that actually connects to another town, there is only one option. Let's take all that road-development money and put it back into the ferry system. Get a couple of publicly subsidized fast ferries on a dedicated Juneau to Skagway run, and we could solve this whole problem.
Think about it: We're considering building a new ferry terminal roughly an hour's drive from the current one (assuming that that hour's drive isn't covered in an avalanche). The new fast ferries go about half as fast a car on Juneau roads (30 mph versus 60 mph), so they'd be able to cover that distance in about two hours. Basically, Lord willing that the hill doesn't slide down, we're cutting an hour off of our potential travel time to Skagway. If the hill does slide down, we've got schedule changes, delays, general pandemonium, and a ferry leaving from the exact same place it does now (not to mention the problems of whoever might have been it the way of the avalanche). This is actually the current plan -when the road is closed (estimated at 30 days a year), we'll just use the ferry terminal we have now.
I'm shocked that the citizens of this town have let such a bad plan get so far. There's another planning commission meeting regarding the road tonight at 7. Let's go down there to the Assembly chambers and get our collective voice heard.
Josh Finley is a Juneau resident attending college in another state. He is home working for the summer.