For more than 30 years the issue of road access for Juneau has been discussed and scrutinized. Years ago when I became interested in the topic, it was a very simple idea of adding another dimension to modern living in Juneau by making it more accessible to those who would want to travel in and out of the southeast part of Alaska. This simple idea has lost its original intent because it has become a matter of one mode of transportation versus another.
During the early stages of those discussions, road access was not a divisive issue. It was intended to improve our community for ourselves and anyone who wished to come to Juneau. Now we have an absurd debate that pits one mode of transportation against the other as though only one mode of travel should prevail.
Anyone who lives or visits Southeast Alaska knows that some form of water transportation is a necessity. Over the years, those of use who advocate road access are some of the same people who have always supported improvements for the ferry system. Therefore, this ferry vs. road debate is beyond my comprehension. We can have both.
The recent proliferation of misinformation and fear-mongering by some of the ferry advocates is a disservice to the public. The real truth about road access for Juneau has been and still is available for anyone who requests the information. We should not rely upon those who feel compelled to camouflage the truth. For the sake of our neighboring communities, I will always support our marine highways. For the sake of Juneau, I will always support a road access. Juneau is southeast Alaska's northern entry. Coupled with the fact that Juneau is Alaska's capital, it is imperative that we use every form of transportation that is available so that we can allow freedom of movement that is convenient and optional for all who might enter or leave.
If we think in terms of people instead of political expediency, we will end up with the original intent of improving access to Juneau. As with everything else in life, money is a factor. However, recent decisions have resulted in money that was earmarked for progress on the road access being confiscated for fast ferries. Money has been identified for road access progress and I am sure that money can be available for future work on the road concept. It is strange, but politicians can miraculously find money for their pet projects.
Safety is, and always should be, a major concern but some of the horror stories are ridiculous. If Hannibal could take an army of men and a herd of elephants safely over the Alps in 247 B.C., I have the faith that our modern technology can construct a safe road access for Juneau. It is my understanding that the mountainous terrain and severe weather conditions in California, Italy, Norway and Sweden can be more problematic than the area of land that would be the site of our road, yet they have roads that are used on a daily basis. I am aware of the risky roads north of us, but the fact remains: At least they have a road for access.
America has always had a love affair with automobiles and Alaskans are no different. Throughout the state one can observe one or more automobiles in each driveway. In Southeast Alaska one will probably see a boat parked next to the automobile. If one travels north beyond southeast, one would see RVs parked next to the automobiles. Air and water transportation will never replace the automobile in terms of economy for traveling families, individual convenience, sheer spontaneity, and personal pleasure for travel. Required advanced reservations to go anyplace reduces my freedom of mobility one of the freedoms that is available to everyone in America.
I will vote for a road access. Transportation alternatives are important for Juneau. I do not want our community to become totally insulated and isolated from the rest of the state. It is shortsighted to allow ourselves to become paranoid about the possibility of opening our community to others. I may never see a Juneau road access but I hold great aspirations for Juneau's future. My hope is that Juneau will continue to work toward being a strong and vibrant community based upon civility, sound reasoning and common sense.
Providing road access is a vision for Juneau's future whose time has come.
Rosalee Walker is a former CBJ Assembly member; past president, Alaska Municipal League; and past president, Alaska Committee.