Take a bold step

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2001

Here we go again. Juneau "turns around and says good morning to the night" or should we say "full speed to the past." We're getting $86 million from Uncle Ted to improve our transportation system and using it to increase sprawl, congestion, urban decline and sow the seeds of road rage. As usual, Juneau is trying to catch up with a past that has depreciated life down south. While forward thinking cities look toward light rail, Juneau looks to the car culture of the 1950s.

As Murray Walsh said in the light rail discussion at Centennial Hall a few weeks ago, (I paraphrase), "For Juneau to develop a light rail system would be a bold act. Juneau is not a bold place." Murray wasn't arguing for light rail, but I don't think he was arguing against it either.

Frank Guzzo, the light rail representative from Siemens, said that the construction cost of light rail could be as low as $12 to $15 million a mile if we had the right-a-ways. From Juneau to the airport is about seven miles. That's around $105 million assuming that we could put a light rail down the middle of Egan Drive. I don't know what yearly operating costs would be. But I'll wager it would be less than what Juneauites spend on gasoline, oil, car payments and car repair each year. Besides reducing traffic and parking problems, light or "fixed" rail would also fix centers of development (raising real estate values in areas close to stations) thereby holding the town and community together, preventing our resources from being frittered away in supplying utilities and services to new, far-flung subdivisions.

It would be bold for Juneau to venture into light rail because we are a small town. However, Aspen, Colo. is planning a light rail system and they are about the same size as Juneau. I don't think we should close our minds to discussion of light rail or write it off as something ridiculous for the size of our town. We should continue to discuss our options, pencil things out and seriously consider THE BIG PICTURE. If we don't want to completely screw up Juneau. Let's think what kind of Juneau we want ... sprawl or community ... and, if after weighing out all of the ramifications of our transportation plan, it might be time to be bold.

Lisle Hebert


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