Ulmer advocates finishing access study, improving ferry service

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fran Ulmer, in a move that contrasts a transportation proposal by her Republican opponent Frank Murkowski, presented new initiatives for Southeast transportation and economic development Friday at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Describing the projects as "achievable dreams," Ulmer, Alaska's lieutenant governor, set out goals, including a second bridge connecting Juneau and Douglas, full funding for road maintenance and snow plowing, continued funding of fast ferry service in Southeast and completion of an environmental impact statement for Juneau access.

In an ambitious transportation plan released earlier this month, Murkowski, a U.S. senator, promised to pursue a number of construction and maintenance projects across the state for roads and railroads.

When asked by The Associated Press last week how he planned to fund the projects, Murkowski stated: "I'm not going to be pinned down on specifics because I don't have to."

With the state facing a $1 billion fiscal gap by 2004, Ulmer said Friday that such projects are nothing more than promises and that the state should focus on more tangible goals.

"I think if Sen. Murkowski spent a little bit more time in the traffic congestion in our major communities, whether it's Anchorage or wherever, if he tested the potholes in Nikiski, or if he heard from people about snow plowing in Haines, he'd be a little less interested in building a railroad to Nome and a little more interested in building the transportation projects that really benefit Alaskans and can stand up to the test of cost-benefit analysis, as opposed to simply promising, promising, promising," Ulmer said.

Highlights of Ulmer's speech to Chamber of Commerce

• Second bridge to Douglas

• Full funding for road maintenance and plowing

• Fast ferry service

• Environmental study for Juneau access

• State parking garage in Juneau

• Expand Centennial Hall

• Expand State Museum in Juneau

• Complete federal fisheries lab at Lena Point in Juneau

Like Murkowski, Ulmer said she would continue with the environmental impact statement for Juneau access, noting that it would take about one year and $1.5 million.

The Juneau access study, which has a preferred alternative of building a road between Juneau and Skagway up the east side of the Lynn Canal, was cut short in 2000 by Gov. Tony Knowles.

Ulmer said the study would include an analysis of the western route as well as the eastern route.

Although many have made up their minds over which route they prefer, Ulmer said, they should keep their minds open to all options.

She said the eastern route has more avalanche chutes, less direct access to the interior, and would run past Berners Bay just north of Juneau. The eastern route, however, would probably cost less, Ulmer said.

"I don't know where the answer will be; I just know these are things to keep in mind and keep our minds open and let the EIS process continue so that we have more of a sense of what's happening."

She said it's been more than three years since the state has done any considerable work on the EIS, and federal laws would require the state Department of Transportation to refresh some of the information regardless of the preferred alternative.

"So it doesn't delay it for those who are wringing their hands about that," Ulmer said. "It simply completes it and allows it to be really based on the best available information, which is how we ought to make decisions whether we're in government or the private sector."

She said even if a road is the preferred alternative, it still will take eight to 10 years to complete the road, barring lawsuits.

In the meantime the state should focus on the ferry system, Ulmer said. She said she would continue to push for "regular, frequent, convenient, fast ferry service."

While serving in the state House of Representatives, Ulmer said, her introduction and passage of a vessel replacement fund became a nest egg for the Alaska Marine Highway System and helped fund the fleet's newest ship, the Kennicott.

"Unfortunately, our legislators, particularly from up north who don't really value the ferry system as they should, did not replace the money that was spent out of that vessel replacement fund, and so now we're not where we could have been or should be in terms of being able to replace our vessels," Ulmer said.

She said she would work to complete the acquisition of four new fast ferries to run in Southeast and Prince William Sound.

Easing road congestion in Juneau at the intersection of 10th Street and Egan Drive as well as at the Sunny Point and Egan intersection also would be a local priority for Ulmer.

"How about a second crossing," Ulmer said. "I think it is an important way of not only linking the (Mendenhall) Valley to the back side of Douglas, where hopefully there will be a Juneau golf course, but it is also a way of improving safety and reducing congestion."

She said a bridge may be a reality sooner than earlier thought because DOT wants to begin environmental studies for a second crossing. Bids for that work will begin in December, Ulmer said.

Snow plowing and road maintenance is an area of statewide concern Ulmer said she would tackle if elected in November.

She said the Legislature's decision last session to reduce DOT's budget by $6.5 million prompted cutbacks on maintenance and snow plowing.

"As governor, Dec. 2, when I get sworn in to office, my priority is going to be to put the snow plows back on the road, and send the Legislature a bill," she said. "I think that is the kind of basic governmental services that people expect, whether it's being able to get the school bus to the school and pick up the kids or whether it's just safe driving."

In addition to road maintenance and transportation projects, Ulmer said she would push for construction of a new state parking garage in Juneau, expansion of Centennial Hall, expansion of the state museum, and completion of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries lab at Lena Point.

Ulmer added that although Juneau actually has gained state employees in the last eight years, she acknowledged that capital creep is an issue, with many of the state cabinets now located outside of the capital city.

If elected governor, Ulmer said she would ask that her commissioners live in Juneau.

"Capital creep is not going to be an issue when you elect a governor who lives in Juneau," Ulmer said. "Anybody who doubts that is on another planet."

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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