Road, ferry go on ballot

Advisory vote to test opinion on building a road or enhancing ferries

Posted: Tuesday, August 08, 2000

Juneau voters will tell city leaders this fall whether they want a road out of Juneau or enhanced ferry service.

Sixteen adamant citizens -- evenly split -- pushed their pro-road and pro-ferry views in testimony before the Juneau Assembly at its Monday night meeting. The targets of their comments were two proposed resolutions -- one calling for an advisory ballot proposition on a road to the Haines-Skagway area, the other calling for an advisory vote on fast ferry service.

The assembly hammered the two into one question:

``Which of the following do you support for improving access from Juneau North: Pick one.

Enhanced ferry service

A road.''

If the question seems matter-of-fact, the combatants were not.

``This (advisory vote) is a really, really foolish idea,'' said Joe Geldhof, an attorney who represents the ferry engineers' union. ``It's a bogus beer commercial -- tastes great, less filling.''

A decision to put the issue to a vote would prove that local government is ``dysfunctional,'' he said.

The same charge was leveled at those who would keep the issue off the ballot by lobbyist Rick Urion, a former legislator. He characterized some assembly members' unwillingness to put the issue on the ballot as ``arrogant,'' the same fault commonly attributed to state legislators' inability to solicit a popular vote on subsistence, he said.

``I think people will support the road,'' said former Juneau Mayor Jamie Parsons this morning. ``The vote will send a message to the administration, that the community does want a road.''

Parsons said the advisory could be useful to a future state administration.

The state Department of Transportation began a formal study to improve access to Juneau in 1992 and completed a draft environmental impact statement for the Lynn Canal road project connecting Juneau with Skagway and Haines in late 1997.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tony Knowles announced his goal to drop the road as a state project -- at least for now -- and to focus on improving the marine highway system with fast ferries. One reason given was opposition to the project in Haines, Skagway and Juneau.

After five years and $5 million spent on the draft EIS, Knowles cut the process off by vetoing a legislative appropriation of $1.5 million to finish up the study.

Mayor Dennis Egan and assembly members John MacKinnon, Dwight Perkins, Ken Koelsch and Don Etheridge Jr. voted for the measure. Frankie Pillifant and Cathy Munoz voted against, saying not enough is known about the environmental and monetary costs of building the road.

Assembly member Jim Powell was absent.

Critics' predictions of road-induced traffic excesses into Juneau and road construction costs of $300 million to $400 million were grossly exaggerated, said former DOT Southeast Regional Director Jon Scribner this morning.

``There's a tremendous amount of engineering expertise'' that went into DOT's $230 million road estimate, he said.

The transportation bottleneck in the Lynn Canal area is the worst in the state, Scribner said. ``I think it's unfortunate the governor and the administration have stopped the process.''

Scribner said the environmental impact statement could be finished in two years and the road in another five.

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