Empire editorial: Assembly urged to support the cause ... way

Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2010

When the City and Borough of Assembly meets Monday to decide the fate of the North Douglas Transportation Crossing, we urge they vote in favor of placing the matter on the ballot for the Oct. 5 municipal election.

Ordinance 2010-27, if passed by the Assembly, will put to voters the question of whether or not to approve the extension of the current 1 percent sales tax for the purposes of funding the design, permitting and construction of a North Douglas Transportation Crossing.

The city initiated its first feasibility study of the Douglas Crossing in 1984. Millions of dollars have been spent since on the project, yet not one drop of concrete has been poured. This despite the city having long identified the crossing as its No. 1 transportation priority, and despite public support of a crossing registering at 69 percent in 1984, 63 percent in 2004 and 76 percent in February, 2007.

The costs are estimated to be between $70 and $80 million dollars and will require voter approval to renew the current temporary 1 percent sales tax for an additional 10-year period in order to generate the funding needed.

The plan being advanced by members of the Safe, Affordable, Future, Efficient Committee (S.A.F.E.) suggests the only way a north crossing will happen is through local commitment. The state no longer has the project on its transportation plan and with the gluttony of federal spending expected to face drastic reductions, we will need to cover the majority of the costs locally.

Having navigated the project through, among other things, a favorable City Engineering Department review, a unanimous Juneau Assembly Finance Committee approval, and a host of public presentations, S.A.F.E. seems to be striking the right chord. Even our local conservation council does not consider the project in one of their special areas, though they are quick to point out better ways to spend the money. These ideas include investments in public transit, methane capture at the landfill, programs which expand electric car usage and improving the aesthetics of downtown.

We believe the project has merit and favor the Assembly passing the ordinance to allow for a vibrant public conversation to occur and time to fully address the questions that remain, and there are several. This is not to be critical of S.A.F.E., as we understand some questions can only be answered upon the completion of the Environmental Impact Study, and that can only come after the voters' leap of faith.

Before Oct. 5, it is incumbent on proponents of the crossing to continue laying out a firm foundation of answers by taking full advantage of the next five-plus weeks to settle more of the unknown, especially the mechanics of the funding mechanism.

We ask the Assembly to provide voters the opportunity to weigh-in on this valued project by passing Ordinance 2010-27.

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