Candidates take stands on second crossing, light rail

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

While all of the candidates running for the Juneau Assembly support either studying or building a second crossing connecting Juneau and Douglas Island, they hold different opinions about light rail.

Both were topics this summer as the Assembly debated and approved the Area Wide Transportation Plan, a 20-year blueprint for city transportation projects.

Incumbent Jim Powell, who is running for re-election to the areawide seat, wants a thorough study of where and how a second crossing would be built.

"From a safety standpoint, from an energy and mass transit standpoint, I think it would make sense," he said. "The challenges we have are retaining some semblance of the Mendenhall Wetlands."

Powell said there's never been an adequate analysis of light rail or similar mass transit options. He supported wording the transportation plan that called for a medium-term analysis of transit, including fixed-guideway systems and other options.

"More than just light rail, I think we need to look at the right-of-way for the future that may be used for a lane for buses, a lane for cars or high-occupancy cars," he said. "We need to evaluate the options and not close out any options for the future."

Chuck Collins, also running for the areawide Assembly seat, said he supports a second crossing for safety reasons. If an avalanche or landslide blocked Egan Drive, a crossing would keep Juneau from getting cut in half, he said.

"I don't think we should go out and bury the wetlands, but I'd like to see a second crossing," he said.

Collins doesn't support light rail.

"I think if we had that much money, we should do something else, like build another high school," he said. "It's a nice thought, but we need answers that make common sense."

The race for the District 2 seat includes candidates Clancy DeSmet, Dixie Hood and Randy Wanamaker.

Hood said Juneau needs to study a second crossing for appropriateness, location and need.

"I think there's more political drive to have that happen than a recognized need," she said.

Hood doesn't think light rail is appropriate for Juneau at this time.

"I don't think we're ready for it yet, but I think we have to have a real analysis done," she said. "I think maybe in 15 or 20 years it would be the perfect thing to do."

DeSmet said he thinks a second crossing can be constructed in an environmentally sensitive manner, although careful study is needed. And while light rail sounds like a good idea, Juneau isn't ready for it, he said.

"We can't afford it and it wouldn't pay off. We're not a big enough city," he said.

Wanamaker said an environmental impact statement for a second crossing needs to be completed to provide information about project feasibility.

"The need is pretty self-evident," he said. "I support a second crossing EIS."

Wanamaker doesn't think more study of light rail is needed.

"I think we've given light rail a fair and good hard look, and we aren't ready at this time," he said. "We should set aside and focus on what's in the Area Wide Transportation Plan to do what we can with our resources that we have available now."

In the race for the District 1 seat, Tony Reiger said he thinks it's appropriate for the community to look at a second crossing.

"I would hope that after we have seriously considered all of the options that the crossing would take place at the least environmentally damaging part of the refuge," he said. "I believe the refuge can continue to survive and (we can) open up land on Douglas."

Reiger describes light rail as something futuristic. Right now, he'd like to maximize bus service, emphasize carpooling and promote staggered work schedules, he said.

Jeannie Johnson, also running for the District 1 Assembly seat, said she'd like to try to solve the bottleneck on both sides of the Douglas Bridge if elected. The community needs a second crossing for safety reasons, she said.

"Surely there will be a need to have an EIS done and we'll look at that information," she said. "I just think that by the time it's built, the time certainly will have come for that additional access to the other end of the island," she said.

A second crossing would open up land that could be used for affordable housing, she added. Johnson said she'd like to provide more access to parking downtown, but is hesitant when it comes to light rail.

"I really don't want to go to light rail if we don't have to go to light rail," she said.

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Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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