Poll shows continuing split over ferry link

Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A poll conducted by Anchorage firm Hays Research Group showed Juneau residents almost evenly split on whether they support or oppose the road.

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Hays Research recorded 350 responses from Juneau residents, with a reported margin of error of 5 percent. The survey was conducted June 27 and 28.

The firm was commissioned by the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, a group that opposes the state's plan to extend Glacier Highway 50 miles to the Katzehin River and construct a shuttle terminal to ferry vehicles to Haines and Skagway.

It comes ahead of the Juneau Assembly's Saturday vote on whether to approve the state's plan.

When asked, "Do you support or oppose the plan," the survey found 47.7 percent oppose the state's plan and 46.3 percent support it.

Residents were then asked, "In your opinion, which ranks higher as a transportation priority for the region: A reliable ferry system connecting all Southeast Alaska communities or the proposed Juneau Access Road and shuttle ferry system?"

Some 55 percent of the respondents said reliable ferry service for Southeast Alaska was most important among transportation priorities, while 40 percent cited the road-shuttle link.

When asked, "What are the most important steps that could be taken to improve ferry service?" 60 percent of respondents stated they would like to see more reliable, frequent and affordable ferry service, according to the pollster. Some 23 percent said they preferred a new system of longer roads and shorter shuttle ferries proposed by the Murkowski administration.

About 34 percent of respondents strongly opposed the state's plan, while 26 percent strongly supported the road-shuttle link.

Emily Ferry, coordinator of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, said she hopes the poll will influence Assembly members and a new administration if Frank Murkowski is not re-elected.

Win Gruening, a supporter of the road, said he was suspicious of the survey because Ferry's group paid for the poll.

"It is difficult to comment on a poll which is commissioned by a person who has testified against the road at every hearing in the past several years," he wrote in an e-mail.

Former Alaska Marine Highway System chief and current Assembly member Bob Doll said he's not sure if this poll would sway members, but the survey has two effects: It confirms the results of previous surveys in approving the marine highway as a substitute to the road, and it adds another argument to the issue.

"This simply adds an apparent public view that the marine highway is an acceptable alternative," Doll said.

The Assembly member added he will not decide how he will vote Saturday until he hears from the public.

Hays Research Group's previous clients include the Anchorage Police Department and the Anchorage School District.

A December 2003 poll conducted by Juneau-based consulting firm McDowell Group for the state showed 52 percent favored a road and 36 percent preferred better ferry service.

The McDowell study was conducted before the state altered its plan. The original idea was to build a continuous 68-mile extension of Glacier Highway to Skagway from Juneau. Last summer, the National Park Service said federal money could not be used on roads running through a recreation area near Skagway.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.

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