My turn: Road opponents use fear

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2007

Those opposed to Juneau road access have a constant theme: fear, characterized by "What if there is an avalanche? A snow slide? The wind blows?" and the corker, "What if a sea lion hears a car?"

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All of these "what ifs" should be paired with the current realities; what if a snow slide, avalanche or gale-force wind closes the Haines or Klondike Highway? What if a ferry (or two or three) breaks down, hits a rock, catches fire? Or, what if winds force the ferry to not run?

All of these happened in the last year or two, and most of them happen every year. As far as disturbing a sea lion, the reality is the same sea lions are being approached by tour boats 20 times a day, are climbing on docks and jumping on the bow of sport boats. As far as wind in the Haines and Skagway area, I have to wonder how ferries and tour ships have survived all these years. The biggest reality is that ferry traffic to Juneau is down 9.3 percent since 2002, while all other forms of transportation are up.

"What if" those who built the Alaska Highway, the Klondike Highway, the railroad to Skagway and the oil pipeline (which pays for social programs, yearly dividends and eliminated the state income tax) had the attitude of those opposing the road. These same kind of people almost succeeded in stopping the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. It passed Congress by one vote in the Senate. Where would we be today if Vice President Spiro Agnew hadn't voted for it?

Our mayor and certain anti-road Assembly members are now trying to substitute a second crossing in place of a road. I cannot understand a "second crossing" that is 4.1 miles from the present bridge that will realize a travel savings of less than nine miles one way (12 minutes) and 1 gallon of gas round-trip. We should be pushing for a crossing further out that will do more good for the future of Juneau.

I believe our leaders took the easy way out so as not to offend those who will do their best to block any route further out and to offer it as a road substitute. Juneau needs both and the road would be much closer to reality if everyone got behind it for the long-term benefit of Juneau. Yes, I would like the road to go through to Skagway, but this is a big step in the right direction. Yes, it will cost a lot of money, but once in place it will be much cheaper to maintain and use than our current unreliable, inconvenient and expensive ferry system.

Has our mayor, local delegation and opposing Assembly members seen what is happening on their watch? We have the highest cost of living and housing costs of all Alaska urban areas. Our per capita income is increasing at a 41 percent lower rate than Alaska as a whole. Juneau is getting older. It is losing population. It has a declining school enrollment, and it's losing good jobs (five-month tourism jobs employing out-of-state college kids don't count). Think how depressed Juneau would be without Kensington and Greens Creek.

As Juneau ages, baby boomers like myself will soon be sales-tax exempt and qualify for a property-tax exemption, a loss of about $3,000 per boomer that goes to paying our bonds off. Homes are selling for well below assessed value, meaning property taxes that fund our bond issues are going to decrease (or should). Who is going to be left to pay the bills for new schools, swimming pools, Eaglecrest, etc. The retail clerks and the summer tourism employees?

The biggest reality is that our legislative delegation, our mayor and a minority of Assembly members who are against the road make it almost impossible to argue for improved, cheap transportation to and from Juneau. It is time for them to look at the results of the status quo, face reality and ask themselves if they are contributing to Juneau's isolation and slow death.

The same holds true for all those opposed to any resource development. What they are doing is obviously not working. In 1986 all of Alaska suffered when the oil prices dropped. Today, roadless Juneau suffers alone.

• Tim Whiting is a Juneau resident.

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