My Turn: Road more trouble than it's worth

Proposed route covers difficult, dangerous terrain

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2006

On three or four skiff rides this summer along the proposed Juneau access road route, I honestly wondered how the Department of Transportation plans to deal with this incredible steep terrain.

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Starting a little north of Sweeney Creek lies peak 5,984. From the summit to the shore, it is less than 1.25 miles. The avalanche run-out is nearly a mile wide, and snow can be seen just off the beach late into August. From there, the terrain is pretty much vertical for the next 30 miles along the coast, with several peaks exceeding 6,000 feet, all within 1 to 1.5 miles from the proposed road.

Just south of the Katzehin River lies a recent landslide with a giant debris pile of logs, rocks and earth right down to the tide line. This month, at the base of many of the avalanche chutes, snow is still present. It is obvious that the Kakuhan mountain range is totally unpredictable. Disturbing the base of these mountains, by extending a road, would be an extremely expensive project, and it would cost even more to maintain it.

The DOT's plan for controlling avalanche danger along the road is obviously foolish and inadequate at best. Malcolm Menzies, DOT's regional director, told the Planning Commission that the plan is to drop bombs from helicopters on the avalanche chutes while a crew of front-end loaders and bulldozers waits at the base to remove hundreds of tons of snow out of the way for the little traffic that will travel the road during winter. Not only will that be expensive, it will be extremely dangerous.

We all know the typical winter weather: Heavy snow warning, with 3 to 4 feet accumulating, changing to rain, with high winds expected and low visibility for days or weeks on end. This is really not the best time to be flying helicopters to bomb the mountains, nor to be driving along a remote highway. Maybe, during the wet and snowy winter, we can convert the Fairweather into a destroyer with Howitzer canons, man it with a crew and run it up and down Lynn Canal, firing on the mountain side.

It just seems more trouble than it is worth to build this road in such a rugged and unstable terrain. With $2.2 billion in state transportation funds, why is the DOT and this administration so bent on misleading us into believing that we can't afford to subsidize this one ferry route? Why do they want to give the money to a mega, privately owned construction corporation? Is it just to create jobs and spend nearly $400 million on a project that really doesn't make much sense and does not have community support?

It's no wonder this project is so controversial and dividing all of us. Better ferry service means cheaper fares and daily service to connect and unite Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

• Michael Miller is a resident of Tee Harbor.

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