My Turn: The joys of a Lynn Canal highway

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The song "Highway, Highway," sung by Joe Cocker, will have new meaning for the people of Juneau when the Lynn Canal highway is completed. In his song, Cocker sings "Highway, highway / Where you go I don't know / Maybe closer to my dreams, maybe far away / Take me today."

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These lyrics will especially resonate with families who can't afford the high cost of traveling to and from Alaska's capital and are stuck here as well as those who want to leave town on the spur of the moment but can't due to a lack of available vehicle space on the ferry.

Let's face it. After working all week in the Southeast Alaska rain forest, residents will jump at the opportunity for a change of scenery and climate when the Lynn Canal highway is built. They will head for their favorite camping site, cross-country skiing trail, freshwater fishing hole, ice arena, golf course, horse camp, water park, gambling

casino, hot springs or sporting event. Or they might just take a relaxing sun break somewhere in northern Alaska, British Columbia or the Yukon Territory. The only thing that stops them now is the excessive cost, lack of vehicle capacity and unreliability of the ferry system.

These recreational opportunities begin just north of us in the community of Haines, where the Southeast Alaska State Fair begins in July, the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival in November and the Alcan 200 International Snow Machine Race in January. Skagway has the Klondike Road Relay in September, the Buckwheat Cross Country Ski Classic in March and the International Mini Folk Festival and Skagway Film Festival in April.

In the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse has the world famous Sourdough Rendezvous Festival in February, Canada Day in July, and the Klondike Harvest Fair in August. In Dawson City, you can legally gamble Las Vegas style at Diamond Tooth Gerties all summer long. Dawson also hosts the Great Klondike International Outhouse Race in September.

Countless other festivals, special activities and sporting events take place north of Juneau in Haines Junction, Watson Lake, Atlin, Laird River, Faro, Tok, Delta Junction and Fairbanks. These communities have numerous activities going on year-round that Juneau residents could afford to enjoy when the Lynn Canal highway is constructed.

Where are we now with the highway?

My understanding is that all the Alaska Department of Transportation needs to begin construction is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit and, according to the Juneau Empire, this permit will be issued in the next couple of months. A large segment of the highway (21 miles) has already been designed by DOT and is ready to be advertised for construction as soon as this permit is issued. Construction could begin as early as next spring.

Now, wouldn't that be great!

The dark cloud hanging over this incredible community benefit is the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. I believe SEACC's intent is to stop this project no matter how important it is for Juneau. It has already filed suit against the Federal Highways Administration and the U.S. Forest Service, and it will likely sue the Army Corps of Engineers once the permit is issued.

SEACC's goal is to drag this project through the court system in an effort to delay it until those who support it either give up or die of old age. That would be a sad day for all of Southeast Alaska.

• Rich Poor is a lifelong Juneau resident who served on the Juneau Assembly and is a member of Citizens Pro Road.

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