My Turn: Murkowski's lame duck highway

Posted: Monday, August 21, 2006

Do you remember A-J's barges carrying rock out on Gastineau Channel and rolling over to dump the rock? Or the old fire station's horn signaling the location of a fire? I use to fly paper airplanes out of the Baranof before the Baranof was completed. So I am not a total outsider but one who has seen the problems with avalanches and landslides on 40 miles of a similar mountain road south of Anchorage.

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Some say Gov. Frank Murkowski's road is just a ruse; the Department of Transportation low-balled the cost estimate so Murkowski could construct a road for the mine at state expense; as soon as the mine portion is complete the remainder of the road will suddenly become too expensive to complete; probably so. The state low-balled the Whittier Tunnel reconstruction; the cost doubled and Anchorage and Whittier never got what they were promised. The state could have constructed a new tunnel for what it blew; now the public wants a new tunnel not shared with railroad. Hopefully, the just-filed lawsuit suit will discover the state's real intent and costs. Mountainside highway construction costs $20 million per mile for low slopes and more than $30 million per mile for slopes of more than 20 degrees.

Some have been led to believe that the road will some how will ameliorate the desire to move the Alaska Capitol. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only are they overlooking the affects of an ugly scar on world-class scenery but also the fact that those 50 miles will be a nightmare which few willingly want drive to get to the Legislature. Few legislators drive to Juneau now and the Lame Duck Highway will only make it fewer. The Lame Duck Highway will only accentuate, like Murkowski's jet the "lame duck," the desire to move the Capitol.

South of Anchorage we have had and still are having problems similar to what will happen to the "Lame Duck Highway." We have spent the last 50 years moving about 40 miles of the highway out of the mountains away from continuous avalanches on to the mud flats. The inability to keep the highway open has raised havoc with businesses in Girdwood just as the Lame Duck Highway will for Haines and Skagway. Drivers and their families were stranded on both sides of the avalanches, between the avalanches and the avalanches killed some.

Even though most of the road is now out on the mud flats it is still extremely expensive to maintain. There are few mud flats to which Skagway, Haines and Juneau can relocate the Lame Duck Highway. Our road to Girdwood is still a death trap and there is no ferry alternative. The drunks, speeders, hydroplaning and black ice have killed so many that the state had to double Alaska State Troopers patrolling that section of the road and it still kills. Sadly, it kills more of the innocent than the transgressors.

With the Lame Duck Highway, there will be the ferries to meet and board; the press of time will motivate drivers to speed and they will hydroplane, losing control careening into the on coming traffic and killing the innocent. Winter brings black ice, which kills; you're on it without warning. Because of the continuous avalanches, the state will have to keep at least an extra ferry with crews on standby. Why construct the nightmarish Lame Duck Highway whose operation and maintenance costs will far exceed the ferries cost when taking a ferry is so much more pleasant and one is able to enjoy world-class scenery. Scenery? Why would Juneau want the state to pay $400 million to $500 million to put an ugly scar all the way down Lynn Canal right out at eye level for 500,000 to 750,000 tourists a year to see? Would pristine Lynn Canal still be listed as world-class with an ugly scar its length? I do not think so. What will be affect on the tourist trade if delisted? A $50 head tax is plain trivial.

Why give Skagway, Haines and Juneau endless business disruptions and maintenance problems; ruin the world-class Lynn Canal scenery between Juneau Haines and Skagway and risk the tourist trade so some of Juneau's carpetbaggers can make a bank roll?

• Jerry McCutcheon is an Anchorage resident.

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