Juneau residents should vote for improved ferry service on ballot Proposition 6 on Oct. 3. After much study, the state of Alaska has chosen this option and is ready to move forward. With daily high-speed ferry service, we can have year-round, safe, convenient, and lower-cost access within three years, versus 12 or more years for a highly hazardous toll road that would likely be impassable in winter. Additional vessels can readily be brought into the fleet in future decades if demand grows. Residents and visitors alike love the ferry ride to Haines and Skagway. Ferries are safe, fun, and good for bringing families and friends together.
For those who like the idea of driving to Skagway, consider the following:
Cost: Unlike the already-expensive $230 million price tag in the Juneau Access EIS, a more realistic road estimate is in the $400 million-$500 million range. The same Department of Transportation (DOT) estimate structure was used to predict costs of the Whittier Tunnel, which came in nearly three times over budget.
Demand: DOT was also off the mark by a factor of three to four times in predicting demand for the Whittier Tunnel. Realistic projections of demand for Juneau access can be readily accommodated by daily ferry service.
Flawed EIS: The Juneau Access EIS is already seven years old and is widely acknowledged to be based on grossly exaggerated projections. It will require a supplemental EIS, which I believe would conclude, as the governor has already concluded, that daily ferry service would be better than a new highway. Why waste more years and millions more dollars to reach the same result?
DOT backlog: The current list of DOT high priority projects is over $1.5 billion dollars. A new Juneau road isn't on it. DOT prioritizes improvements to existing highways, with huge needs in the Kenai, Anchorage and Mat-Su areas. Anchorage legislators could never justify significant funds for a new highway connecting Juneau and Skagway.
Sen. Stevens: OK, we'll just get Sen. Stevens to get the money! Maybe he can just divert the Shakwak money! Oops - Sen. Stevens already DID divert some of the Shakwak money to be spent on the Haines Highway and on improved ferry service! There can be no clearer statement from the senator's office: He will not fight to fund Juneau's wilderness road.
Capital move: What will people in Anchorage and Fairbanks say when they hear Juneau is asking for hundreds of millions in federal highway dollars and state matching funds to improve access to the capital city? "Move the capital." Anchorage already has road access! Promoting new highway construction as a capital move hedge will backfire.
Berners Bay: Remember the effort that saved Berners Bay from logging and road construction in 1984? Even the Juneau Assembly joined that goal, as they did in 1990 to support federal roadless designation for Berners Bay. Do you think those in Juneau and around the country who fought for those federal protections are going to stand by while a road is built on designated roadless Forest Service lands, when a perfectly suitable transportation alternative already exists?
Traffic: Building a road to Juneau would open our community to more slow-moving RVs, causing more summer traffic congestion. Homer's road brings wall-to-wall RVs along the Homer Spit every summer. Do we need this in Juneau?
Avalanches: There are 58 avalanche chutes along the proposed 65-mile route. A road to Skagway would be one of the most dangerous and expensive to maintain roads in the nation.
Driving: Sure some of us want to drive to Skagway? But in winter? Do we want to take a shuttle ferry near Skagway to get to Haines? Are we willing to pay the road toll, plus the shuttle ferry toll to Haines, plus the gas, for a 35-55 mph seasonal road? How often would we really do this? Is this the highest priority for Juneau's share of state dollars just to know you could drive out of town?
Ferries: Would you like a lower-cost, daily, year-round fast ferry option to get to Haines or Skagway any day you wish? Do you like your kids being able to play with other kids while you read a book, relax with your spouse or meet other people? Isn't ferry travel good for sports teams, school and church groups, families, visitors, and our overall sense of community?
A beautiful road to Haines and Skagway already exists. Support our Marine Highway system. Vote for improved ferry service on Oct. 3.
Ken Leghorn, a 22-year Juneau resident and long-term tourism business owner, is chair of S.A.N.E., Smart Access Now for Everyone, the group supporting improvements to the Marine Highway System.