Officials at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said they will no longer build a road that connects Juneau to Skagway. Instead, the road will stop 18 miles short and move vehicles and passengers via a shuttle ferry.
The National Park Service considers land surrounding Skagway as a valuable recreation spot, a wildlife and waterfowl refuge and a historic site.
Because that area, consisting of the Lower Dewey Lakes and Klondike Park, is designated as what's called Section 4(f) lands, federal highway money cannot be used to build a highway there, state officials said.
"This has pretty much eliminated the possibility of constructing the Juneau Access project in that corridor," said DOT Commissioner Mike Barton in a statement.
The department will pursue an alternate plan it outlined in an environmental impact statement submitted earlier this year. A ferry terminal will be built north of the Katzehin River to take vehicles and passengers to Haines or Skagway via a shuttle boat.
"We're still far better off with the existing marine highway system," said Emily Ferry, coordinator for the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, which advocates strengthening the existing state ferry system.
She wonders what would happen if the ferries weren't running.
"If you get to the end of the road and there's no ferry, then what are you going to do," Ferry asked.
The plan calls for six to eight daily shuttle trips to Haines and four to six trips to Skagway. The state estimates the drive and boat ride will take 2.5 hours to Haines or three hours to Skagway.
Mainline ferry service would end at Auke Bay; the state's fast vehicle ferry Fairweather would no longer operate in Lynn Canal.
The department's preferred plan had called for the construction of a 68-mile highway starting where Glacier Highway ends at Echo Cove. Through a series of bridges and routes it would have reached Skagway. The department estimated that project would have cost $281 million.
With the new alternative, road construction would be about $85 million to $90 million less, said department spokesman John Manly.
According to the agency, the state would have to spend $16 million on ferry terminals and $48 million on a vessel. Maintenance and operations for the highway and shuttle ferries would be $9 million a year, state officials said.
The state has $15 million of federal money so far for the project and $5 million of state funds.
The new alternative is "still going to allow people to get out of Juneau," said Chris Wyatt, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, an organization that supports the road.
Manly said it is not a setback for the project.
"We can shift gears and go the other way," he said.
The department's goal is to provide a low-cost way for people to travel between Haines and Skagway and Juneau, Manly said.
According to the plan, a family of four would pay $34 to get from Juneau to Haines, and $51 to get from Juneau to Skagway.
Riding on the fast ferry, the current price for a family of four with a vehicle of up to 15 feet costs $191 from Juneau to Haines and about $248 from Juneau to Skagway, one way, according to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
"We have a mass transit system. Yes, it's expensive but that's the nature of the area we live in," said Burl Sheldon, who opposes the road.
Sheldon added that the alternate plan would make traveling more difficult for walk-on ferry riders.
The department is waiting for more funding from the Federal Highway Administration before the designing and construction phase will begin, Manly said.
The alternate plan has been through the review process, so it does not require a new round of public comment, Barton said.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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