City officials are hoping a second crossing over Gastineau Channel can help bridge the gap between affordable housing in the community by opening up more land on north Douglas Island.
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Roger Healy, director of engineering, said the city signed a request for proposals on Friday to hire a consultant to help facilitate public involvement in picking a community-preferred alternative for second crossing over the channel.
"The idea behind this process was to allow for public input and involvement and hopefully filter that input from different stakeholder groups, and the public in general, to the policy makers," Healy said.
The Assembly appropriated nearly $135,000 this year to conduct the study.
The Assembly chose three routes in October 2005 as the best possibilities for another bridge connecting the mainland to Douglas Island. The proposals include a possible crossing at Sunny Point, Vanderbilt Hill or Yandukin Drive.
Healy said the city will accept proposals from consultants until Aug. 11. He said it generally takes a week to hire a consultant through a qualification-based selection process.
"I think for this Assembly, this project is the No. 1 priority for transportation projects and has been for two or three years," Assembly Member Jeff Bush said.
He said there are multiple reasons why Juneau could use a second channel crossing, including recreation opportunities, traffic flow and access to more land.
"Affordable housing has been a problem in Juneau and until there is the ability to develop some property," Bush said. "It's very difficult to get development of affordable housing going because you need more access to land."
Assembly Member Merrill Sanford said a second channel crossing could also provide more industrial-zoned land, something he says the city is short of. He said it could also open up commercial waterfront property on Douglas and port zones.
"Plus there is lots of real nice, sunny residential areas back there," Sanford said.
He said the request for proposals is another step in a long process to try and open up more land in the community.
"We have been trying to move it along for quite awhile. We've been doing a little steps and it's getting to the point where the city can take some bigger steps."
Bush said the second crossing could help improve the recreational opportunities in the community by adding easier access to the proposed second golf course and to the Eaglecrest Ski Area.
"There's all kinds of things that could be available, but until it happens it's impossible to develop north Douglas," he said.
Healy said the potential development of north Douglas a while off, and it would take years of permitting and appropriating funds for construction of a second crossing.
"The construction project itself is certainly many years out," he said. "We would like to see construction as soon as possible, but it has a planning, environmental process, and a design process."
Healy said securing funds for construction might become the biggest hurdle. Depending on the design and the route it could range anywhere from $66 million to a quarter-billion dollars, he said.
Healy said the Coast Guard would require the bridge to be the same height as the existing bridge for navigational clearance. He said that could require a costly "nonfixed" bridge such as a drawbridge. He said the cost would also depend on whether it was constructed on fill or pile-supported, with the latter being more expensive.
"The amounts of money we are talking about right now have not been appropriated at the local, state or federal level," Healy said.
Gov. Frank Murkowski did sign Senate Bill 231, which allocated $3 million to an environmental document for the project that will be run by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, he said.
Sanford said he hopes the request for proposals will help the community get behind one of the three proposed crossings.
"Mainly they're trying to get the feeling of the citizens of what they think of that," he said. "If there is one that sticks out that is more preferable then the other two then we would look at those of course."
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.