On Aug. 10 the Alaska Department of Transportation announced that the road out of Juneau would end at the Katzehin River instead of Skagway, and that short shuttle ferries would provide the final connection between Katzehin River, Haines and Skagway. Being a strong road advocate I was a little disappointed with this decision. I've always felt that if Juneau was to remain Alaska's capital city it was imperative to have road access to the rest of the state. However, from a local and Lynn Canal point of view this decision may end up being a win-win solution for almost everybody.
By ending the road at the Katzehin River, Haines (which is having serious economic problems) would become the transportation hub for the Upper Lynn Canal shuttle ferry system. This would mean additional state jobs to operate the shuttle ferries, and Haines would become the main port for traffic flowing in and out of Juneau and the rest of Southeast Alaska. With housing so expensive in Juneau, Haines could benefit from the opening of the Kensington Mine with this improved access. Haines would also have a lot more Juneau visitors at such events as the Southeast Alaska State Fair.
Skagway is also a winner because they didn't want the road in the first place. They will become secondary to Haines transportation wise, but will not lose their status as the main port serving the Yukon Territories and having to worry about losing some of their cruise ship port calls.
Even though a road to Skagway is considered the most convenient and cost effective mode of transportation, a road to the Katzehin River with shuttle ferry service to Haines will provide Juneauites and visitors alike with far superior access than is currently being provided by the Alaska Marine Highway System. In fact, you could call this improved ferry service, which is what a lot of Juneauites wanted in the first place. Instead of just one ferry a day with a maximum of 35 vehicles, you would have six to eight shuttle ferry trips carrying several hundred vehicles per day, cheaper ($35 for a family of four as versus $239 by MV Fairweather) at a convenient time of your choosing. Now this is definitely a major ferry improvement. People who want to keep Juneau isolated from the rest of the world should also be happy because they still can't drive in or out.
The state is also a winner because it will save almost $6 million annually in state ferry subsidies, the overall cost of the project will be reduced by up to $90 million, 186 miles of travel time for mainline ferries going up and down Lynn Canal will be eliminated and those ferries to be re-utilized elsewhere in the system. Auke Bay would then become the northern terminus of the AMHS Southeast. Other communities will benefit if the state decides to build shuttle ferries at the Ketchikan shipyard or Allen Marine in Sitka.
Now is the time for the local governments of Juneau, Haines and Skagway to get behind DOT and support this project. It will allow Alaskans much improved access to their capital city, it will improve access for the residents of Haines and Skagway to Juneau's medical and transportation facilities, and it will open up much needed recreational land for all the residents of Lynn Canal to enjoy. I plan to bury the hatchet and work with DOT to get this project going.
Rich Poor is a lifelong resident of Juneau who has served on the Juneau Assembly and is a retired transportation planner for the Alaska Department of Transportation.
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