My Turn: Analysis favors the road

Posted: Monday, September 05, 2005

Most discussion of taking the ferry to Skagway has included the price of a one-way ticket. As most of us plan to return to Juneau, I think all discussion should include a round-trip ticket to give a realistic cost estimate of what traveling from Juneau costs. I told my granddaughter I would take her and a friend on a fast ferry trip and a train ride in Skagway. Due to the ferry schedule, we could not do the train without spending a night in Skagway. For four of us, no vehicle, up and back, without getting off the boat was $425.

Later, a friend and I, with a 19-foot vehicle, went to Whitehorse. Round-trip was $450. In August, two of us took my truck and a 16-foot Lund boat for a day trip down the Big Salmon River into the Yukon. Two of us, truck and skiff cost $880. This amounted to $1,755 for three round-trips to Skagway. If I was charged $50 round-trip for the roads, and $180 round-trip for the shuttle ferry to Skagway, my total cost would be $750 for all three trips, including gas at $3 per gallon (for the drive from the ferry terminal to the Haines terminal). This is a difference of over $1,000. I would have spent money in Haines or Skagway on food, gas, train trip, etc. I would have made at least one of those trips from Haines as the drive from Haines to Whitehorse is very enjoyable. As it was, I had lunch once in Skagway.

Drivers from Juneau would have the option of going whitewater rafting from either Haines or Whitehorse, exploring hundreds of lakes and rivers in the Yukon and British Columbia. They could enjoy driving to Whitehorse, where there are two golf courses, horseback trips, four-wheeler trails and people actually glad to see the tourists. In the winter, there are also snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in Haines Junction. The Whitehorse area is far superior to the Juneau area. All of these activities would be available to everyone at a rate many could afford if there was a road not, to mention a schedule that you could make on your own, allowing better use of your vacation time. A family of four with a vehicle could travel round-trip to Haines or Skagway for around $250, versus over $600.

For those who were not here when the road out of Skagway was built, Juneau backed that road. It was closed during the winter and was eventually opened year-round. The Haines cutoff and the Skagway roads are both kept open during the winter although they do get closed for periods during and after winter storms. That is nothing new, and it will happen on the road out of Juneau. No big deal.

For those who were not here when the road did not go past Eagle River, very few people spent time in Berners Bay. Now, everyone accesses the bay from a road. Guess what? The bay is doing fine. With current reasoning, some of you would not have the Eaglecrest Road (five miles through the wilderness across a spawning stream on Douglas Island), Egan Drive with Twin Lakes recreation area (which covers wetlands), or the road to Eagle Beach and Berners Bay. Laws and regulations were not meant to stop all development but to make sure development is done correctly. All the hype about danger due to avalanches, etc., were the same arguments used against the road out of Skagway and per-mile the Thane Road has to be more dangerous.

Another benefit of the road is that it would free up the fast ferry and all the mainline ferries for use in the rest of Southeast Alaska, helping out our fellow citizens. Some people have forgotten that the Malaspina and the Taku have been designed to be scrapped, the Malaspina years ago. That will eventually happen, and the road from Juneau to Haines will ease the drain on our friends in other communities by freeing up the remaining ferries for more trips between their communities and Juneau, where they can drive to the rest of Alaska, Canada and even America.

• Tim Whiting lives in Juneau.

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