Real Alaskans won't hesitate to reject a road

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Proof that Juneau is a dysfunctional political town was delivered when the assembly voted to add an advisory question regarding access to the local ballot this fall. Great! We will now debate a topic and vote on an issue that is meaningless.

Sure, passions about the road are running high. Yeah, most folks will vote for a road if you ask them whether they would rather drive to Skagway or take the ferry. The simplistic nature of the question on the ballot masks the complicated nature of the access issue and makes the electoral outcome of the measure certain. It's like an offer of free lunch. Who can refuse?

The fact that the proposed road is very expensive and unlikely to be built didn't faze the assembly. Why should these facts stop us from voting for a road? Who cares if the road proposal calls for a toll?

Does it matter that DOT overstated demand for a road and jacked around the so-called cost/benefit analysis when straining to justify a road? Not really.

This entire exercise in giving "advice" to our assembly is about emotion and the apparent need some folks have to be able to hop in their vehicles and drive beyond the current end-of-the-road. Americans often exhibit a deep-seated desire to travel and migrate at will. Many of us have developed a habit of confusing movement with progress. Why shouldn't we be able to drive out of Juneau?

It really comes down to money. Why should the taxpayers of the United States spend a huge pile of federal reserve notes on a wealthy little town in Alaska? We already have excellent barge service, good airline service and adequate ferry service.

Does it make sense for Congress to subsidize costly road construction when existing actual transportation needs are served? Does anyone really think Ted Stevens is going to use limited political capital to build a hugely expensive road for a town that has been lukewarm, at best, to his political aspirations? Are the wishes of Haines and Skagway to be ignored? Are other Alaskans willing to give up vital transportation projects so Juneau residents can drive to Carcross for the day?

The tired arguments made in favor of building a road to stave off a capital move are bogus. This isn't an issue about travel. Realistically, no one will travel by road from Fairbanks or the Anchorage area to lobby their public officials when they can fly. Nobody will plan an auto trip to Washington State or Mexico during spring break. The road proposal is in the tradition of other whacko Alaskan proposals like the Ramparts Dam, the incomparable Teflon Dome, the Susitna Dam, Project Chariot, water pipelines to California, various agricultural projects and a host of other pipe dreams. Economics scuttled them all.

The road isn't about transportation or access in the final analysis. It's not even about the economic or political future of Juneau. It's about the unwillingness of individuals to face the financial and physical realities life presents in a northern environment. That's why this fall the folks who are really Alaskans won't hesitate to say no to a silly advisory question calling for an expensive road to nowhere.

Joe Geldhof


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