My Turn: Historical perspective on road controversies

Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2005

I am noticing more bumper stickers from both sides of the argument: "Want More Roads? Move Down South," and "Don't Want Roads? Pelican Needs You." I'm not sure if the Juneau-Skagway road debate is becoming more popular because of the press it's receiving or because it is currently in the designing stages. With quite a bit of time and some Googling, I found only two instances of community opposition to a first-road connection: one in western Pennsylvania, 1794, and one in Skagway, 1968.

In 1794, Redstone, Pa., did not want a road to their homestead community. Unfortunately, that community was supportive of the Whiskey Rebellion and tested the authority of the federal government. The feds won and built a road and a fort in that community. It was confirmed then that larger government trumps individual communities on issues of taxation and access rights. If the feds want to build a road for the purposes of safety or progress, they have the right under the laws of eminent domain. In the issue of the Juneau-Skagway road, only a very small percent of private land would be affected. Some opponents suggest that more roads mean more car accidents. True, but since most accidents happen within two blocks of a resident's home, maybe we should get rid of all roads within two blocks of a home ... ridiculous.

In 1968, there was vocal opposition to building the South Klondike (White Pass) Highway with some of the same beliefs people have today about the proposed road. Eventually, the facts presented over the next three years changed enough minds that a majority on both sides of the border supported the road. Then, Canada built a new bridge in Carcross and extended the road to the British Columbia border in 1971. This made the Venus Mine accessible by vehicle and brought the South Klondike road closer to the border. A vocal minority on both sides of the border became outraged and tried to make the populace believe that the road would be an unhealthy idea because it would force the cultures of the two communities, Skagway and Whitehorse, to change. The communities did change. Are they worse off now? This appealing-to-the-public for support was instrumental then because two countries had to come to an agreement to build an international highway. If the feds or state were doing their jobs correctly, it shouldn't be a case now with a state road. Having public support is great, but infrastructure and utilities shouldn't be left to mob mentality.

We still have a vocal minority who believe the road is a bad idea no matter what facts are presented to the contrary.

If you are interested in the Juneau-Skagway road debate for any reason, please look at the facts before creating a conclusion. I am frustrated that people voice their conclusions (on either side) and then want to throw out the facts that are not supportive.

I guess that's why these letters and editorials are opinions instead of reports. It's my opinion that people should base conclusions on facts instead of the other way around. Be informed. You don't have to agree with me, but please bring facts to the bargaining table, not beliefs.

• Juneau resident Michael Heiman is a history teacher.

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