Murkowski seeks road to Skagway

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski's new Southeast Alaska transportation plan calls for a road from Juneau to Skagway by 2010.

Murkowski said the transportation plan would extend the region's existing highway system, deploy new fast ferries to cover road gaps of 70 miles or more, and retire obsolete and mainline feeder ferries.

The goal, Murkowski said, is to develop a surface transportation system that puts every community within one-day's travel of other major regional communities.

"Our plan uses the right mix of transportation links to give Alaskans access to jobs and economic opportunities, access to neighboring communities, and access to the world at large," Murkowski said.

Murkowski unveiled the plan in Ketchikan on Saturday.

A 65-mile road north out of Juneau, now accessible only by water or air, has evenly split residents of the capital and has been condemned by residents of the upper Lynn Canal communities of Skagway and Haines, where business owners say commerce will dry up if a highway replaces ferry traffic.

Ferry travelers now traveling north from Juneau can disembark at Skagway, about 700 road miles from Fairbanks, or at Haines, about 655 miles from Fairbanks.

"It will be as stupid an idea in 2010 as it is now," said Jan Wrentmore, a Skagway business owner and former lobbyist for the historic Gold Rush city.

The issue in Skagway is its port and its status as the northern terminus in the Panhandle, Wrentmore said.

"We lose our status of what we've had for 100 years," she said. "It creates a competing port. That would have a negative impact on our economy, particularly if it affects cruise ship patterns at all."

Haines officials believe their community will be bypassed if a road is built, she said.

A road also is opposed by environmental groups, who say building on the steep slopes on Lynn Canal's east side would be dangerous and damaging to a treasured wilderness.

Road proponents cite the high cost of ferry travel and contend better access would diminish efforts to move the capital from Juneau.

Construction costs of a road in 2000 were estimated at $240 million, a figure critics said was far too low. Former Gov. Tony Knowles that year backed improving transportation with a fast ferry and halted further road planning.

Murkowski was elected in 2002 and revived the road concept. The Juneau road plan, he said Saturday, would include frequent ferry service from Skagway to Haines and a new ferry terminal near the Katzehin River about 7 miles southeast of Haines.

To provide for transportation needs over the next 20 years, Murkowski said, the Southeast plan identifies 34 essential road and utility corridors the state should reserve for future roads.

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