Road is a local issue too

Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2006

When a Juneau Planning Commission member this week questioned state road planners' attention to the city's opinion of the proposed Juneau access highway, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities had a disturbing retort.

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When Planning Commissioner Marshal Kendziorek lamented the state's lack of response to the city panel's concerns about land use, aesthetics and the environment, the state shrugged.

In essence, the department said the road is a state project that affects all Alaskans, not just Juneau.

"We sometimes forget that the rest of the state wants access to the capital city," was the response from DOT/PF. "This is a statewide priority for the department."

OK. No surprise there. But if the further implication is that Juneau doesn't matter, the state may be spinning its wheels. The Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to reject an extension of Glacier Highway north through 23 miles of city land and wetlands. One item on the long list of things that the Murkowski administration needs to go right to build its road to an envisioned Katzehin River ferry terminal is the city's permission.

The Planning Commission does not have final say here. The Juneau Assembly will consider its recommendation. While there are mixed feelings on the Assembly, it has appeared in the past that the group may go along with the state plan.

That acquiescence is not guaranteed, though, and arrogance on the state's part may jeopardize the partnership. Rather than merely rubber-stamping the governor's idea for a plan that could, if it gets past Clean Water Act lawsuits, forever change life in Juneau, the city should insist that the state work with it. If there is to be a road, the city should be a full partner in deciding how to minimize its effects to areas that residents hold dear.

Sure, voters in Anchorage or the Interior theoretically could drive to Juneau to testify at committee hearings or visit their lawmakers. But no one anywhere in Alaska will experience anything near the changes that residents of Juneau, Haines and Skagway will undergo. Call it a statewide priority if you will, but the reality will be quite local.

The Assembly considers the highway plan in a July 29 special meeting. This will be the best time for city leaders to assert themselves and make sure a supposed statewide priority adheres to local values and hopes.

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