My Turn: Alaskans for Better Access reactivates

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

We are talking about "The Road" again. I said I was not interested in such talk after the 2000 municipal election - until I saw significant change in the factual and political situation. Well, things have changed.

We now know that the state plans no improvement in ferry service for Lynn Canal until 2008 at the soonest. We didn't know that in 2000. This "improvement" will be to replace the 88-car Malaspina with the 35-car fast ferry. Still just one run a day to or from Juneau.

We also know that the rest of Alaska wants a road. This is not new, but this desire was heard more loudly than ever by the many Juneauites who staffed Alaska Committee booths at fairs around the state.

The most significant obstacle to building the road will soon be gone. There is no sense in sugar-coating this. Gov. Knowles was the problem. We know that Sen. Frank Murkowski, if elected governor, supports the road and will re-start the EIS process instantly.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer's view is less clear. She favors re-starting the EIS process but appears to think that a decision has not yet been made on which alternative to pursue. She said, "completion of the EIS should consider the safest and most cost-effective route for a proposed road. My mind remains open on (building a road)." (Empire, Sept. 11) We think she'll build the road, but this is not completely clear.

There is some confusion on the Assembly's part as well. The Sept. 9 meeting featured an acrimonious debate between "finish the EIS" and "build the road." These are two ways of saying the same thing! The East Lynn route was selected in January 2000 as the preferred alternative and this selection was approved by Gov. Knowles. (Why would he do that and then do everything else to obstruct the road? Danged if I know.)

If the EIS process is restarted, there will be additional study and analysis, but it will all be aimed at proving up on the preferred alternative. It is true that some heretofore unknown fact could emerge that would make the East Lynn route unusable but this is extremely unlikely.

The EIS process breaks down into two basic sections. The first is what happens before a preferred alternative is selected. Many ideas and options can be examined during the first phase and that was done. From that first phase, the best method of meeting the transportation need is selected as the preferred alternative. The second section verifies and validates the preferred alternative. "Finishing the EIS" means initiating that second phase.

We urge Juneau residents to vote for Assembly and legislative candidates who support the road. If you talk to a candidate who expresses support for finishing the EIS, then you should ask, "Do you realize finishing the EIS means there is a 99 percent chance that the final result will be to build the East Lynn road?" Watch the candidate closely at this point for body language, facial tics, squirming, or other signs of stress.

He or she may disagree and say that the process is wide open and that the road is only one of many possible outcomes. You reply, "Well, that's not what ADOT&PF has said to the Federal Highway Administration, but whatever, if the final result of the EIS is to build the East Lynn Canal road, will you support it?" Watch real close now for signs of insincerity. Vote for the person you believe is most sincere in his or her support for finishing the EIS and most likely to support the result.

My remarks above about the EIS process are based on a review of written documents and direct conversations with ADOT&PF staff. This is not my interpretation or slant on the process. It really is as described.

The East Lynn Road is the only access option that meets the ADOT&PF statement of purpose and need; is the least expensive option over the long term; and does the most for cementing the capital in Juneau. This route has fewer avalanche chutes than the Seward Highway and has less environmental impact than the recently mentioned West Lynn route. It really is the best option for Juneau as well as the rest of Alaska and it is the most important civil works issue for us in the next 50 years. Please vote for those candidates that you believe will work the hardest to build the road.

Walsh was the chair of Alaskans for Better Access in 2000 and has resumed that role. He is a planning consultant based in Juneau.

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