Construction of a much-talked-about second crossing from Juneau to Douglas is at least seven years away, but residents will have an opportunity this fall to weigh in on exactly where the bridge should be located.
The city and state Department of Transportation are preparing the environmental impact statement for the bridge, the construction of which is estimated to cost roughly $60 million, said Sam Kito, transportation development manager for the city.
The second crossing has been discussed for years, but cost always has been a sticking point, Kito said. The city and DOT have done several studies on it since 1984.
Now the city has a $2.1 million federal appropriation to fund the first phase of the EIS. That money originally had been slated for the stalled West Douglas Highway Project. But it won't be enough to complete the EIS. Kito said the city will need an additional $2 million to $2.5 million to finish that process.
Kito said the bridge will aid economic development efforts planned for Douglas Island.
"In order to have the planned development - industrial and residential - the people that might be doing business out there require better access to that area," he said.
Kito also said the bridge would provide an alternate route for residents of Douglas to reach Bartlett Regional Hospital.
"To have alternative access to get to the hospital, to downtown, to Douglas, provides lots of safety benefits," he said.
The city's first order of business is to identify possible locations for the bridge.
According to the Department of Transportation, the project study area includes about nine miles of Gastineau Channel, from the Salmon Creek area to the Mendenhall Peninsula.
"We're looking at those areas where there are already traffic and intersections," Kito said.
Possibilities for the Juneau side of the bridge include the intersection of Egan Drive and Vanderbilt Hill Road, Sunny Point near the old Kmart, and Yandukin Drive near Fred Meyer. Kito said planners also will look at the possibility of locating one end of the bridge at Industrial Boulevard, on Engineer's Cutoff Road or on Fritz Cove Road.
So far only one location on Douglas Island has been discussed: Fish Creek Road leading up to Eaglecrest Ski Area, he said.
Consultant Jamie Damon said residents will have an opportunity to comment and offer suggestions and concerns during community scoping meetings tentatively scheduled for late October. Project consultants also plan to conduct a survey next month to gauge community perceptions about the second crossing.
She said the draft EIS could be ready by winter of 2004, but construction won't start until at least 2010.
Kito said planners will have to work out restrictions on development in the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. He said the language that established the refuge in the early 1980s includes a provision that the city could use part of the area for a transportation corridor.
Resident Laurie Ferguson Craig said she hopes planners will consider alternatives that don't affect the refuge. She said building the bridge at the eastern end of the refuge by the hospital would make sense.
"It's not going to give that fast access between North Douglas and the Valley, but that would be very expensive. You'd have to have a very high bridge, it would be a gigantic expanse to cross. It would solve some problems but at an impractical price," Craig said.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.