My turn: Confidence in Juneau road waning

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008

The public now knows more facts about the long-debated access road problems facing Juneau. The major fact is that the state Department of Transportation has put Golder Associates on hold, which means that Phase 2 will not take place for an unknown period.

Most people in Juneau know very little about Golder Associates. They are worldwide, with some 5,000 employees who do research and recommend solutions to serious construction problems such as those that exist in Lynn Canal.

Their principal engineering geologist is Robert G. Dregan, who has been in charge of the Phase 1 report, which was done in 2006. No doubt, this report presented a severe headache of obvious descriptions of engineering that will require expert handling and financial strain.

As an example, the following notes for Phase 2 are brought out in Phase 1. The Golder reports so far indicate that Phase 2 will take in alignment, optimization, collaboration, preliminary stability analysis and centerline investigations.

Other important items include: 1) mapping geologic cross-sections, 2) cuts and embankments, 3) material sites and testing, 4) foundation investigations, 5) bridges and elevated structures and 6) walls, tunnels and snowsheds.

The items in No. 6 are extremely important since both tunnels and snowsheds must be waterproof to prevent serious freezing and resultant head-on automobile collisions. Estimated costs, several years ago, for snowsheds were at least $13 million each and are now many times over that for tunnels.

Valuable time has been lost as Golder Associates has not been given a go-ahead to do the Phase 2 report, which is essential to provide answers to the above subjects.

Edward LaChapelle, professor emeritus of geophysics and atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington said it best:

"I believe the Juneau-Skagway Highway would be a mistake. There are a number of good reasons for this, but to my mind the dominant one is that it is a huge, irreversible project which, once started, will develop into a black hole for construction and maintenance monies whose projected sources so far have a smoke and mirrors aura. The ferry alternatives, on the other hand, are flexible, adjustable and even reversible. Ferries can be bought, leased, reassigned or even sold as evolving circumstances require. They are far less likely to lock the state into a fiscal rocket launch that for years to come will drain resources badly needed elsewhere."

LaChapelle spent lots of time in Southeast Alaska and studied Lynn Canal extensively.

Golder Associates has pointed out that 52 catalyzed rockfall hazard areas exist along with 42 debris flow hazards, four soil raveling hazards, four transitional sliding hazards, three landslide and two rockslide.

All of the above are true reasons for the safety of this road, which should be the deep concern of everyone, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which did not mention safety in the permit. I have been told that safety and finance are never listed in their concerns.

It is interesting to note that fuel prices (which have doubled since their $374 million estimate for the road) are not being included in the DOT figures. My observation is that big construction firms burn diesel and gas fuel like no tomorrow. This figure will be huge for this project.

With all of these unknowns, my confidence for this project has been sinking.

Also, with the extreme blasting, which will be necessary, it will sound like World War III has arrived. No sensible animal or bird will hang around for 12 years of this. A small example of that fact is the disappearing of the two eagles that were nesting during the blasting of the bypass road near the Auke Village Recreation Area a few years ago. The project even had a state employee on hand to monitor the blasting, which apparently did nothing to help the eagles.

To slow down the letter writing from a warm office, the negative group is working on plans to have a boat transport about 15 people later this summer to the site of all the concern. Nothing can open eyes better than direct observation by both sides of the debate.

• Dean Williams is a Juneau resident.

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