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My turn: It's time for Juneau's second crossing

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Egan Drive was built more than 30 years ago. It connects Juneau, bringing us together and giving us opportunities. It gives Juneau and Douglas easy access to the shopping areas of Mendenhall Valley and makes cheaper shopping like Fred Meyer possible. It opened affordable land in the valley for development. It provides for significantly enhanced safety and opens recreation opportunities. The new crossing will too.

In 1960, before Egan was built, Juneau's population was 6,000, with few people living in the valley. By 1970, Juneau had grown to 19,500 people. Egan's construction wasn't the only cause of Juneau's development and prosperity; we all know there were other factors. But certainly Egan allowed for the growth. The two-lane, winding Glacier Highway would have never allowed for the same level of growth and safety. Look at what Egan did for Juneau. Look at the water access on the west side of Douglas that is available for new, deep water Coast Guard and critical barge transportation ports, the land available for clean industry, and higher-density residential potential. That is Juneau's future and why we need the crossing.

Egan crossed the wetlands from Norway point to where Fred Meyer is now but they remain 'word class' habitats, just as they will after this crossing is built. The crossing plan from the new interchange at Walmart to Hendrickson point is preliminary for purposes of stating a proposed project for this advisory vote. Once Proposition 2 passes, the city will hire experts who will begin a permitting process which will consider possible location and design options. This will be conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and will involve many federal and state agencies. The process will result in an environmentally sound project.

The second crossing can be permitted. Experts in the Coast Guard, and engineers who spent their careers obtaining permits for State projects like this one, have said so publicly. Statements to the contrary by Proposition 2's opponents are inaccurate.

The Oct. 5 vote for Proposition 2 is just the first of many opportunities for Juneau's citizens to give input on the project. Each step, including the engineering, design and permitting service contracts, and the construction award will require City Assembly approval and public comment. The design and NEPA process will include scoping meetings and other formal public hearings in which all of us can give input. The public must also approve any bonds if some amount of advance funds are necessary. The amount of the bonds is not known today and is dependent on how long design and permitting takes.

If the second crossing is ever to be a reality, local funds must be used. The state of Alaska considers this project a local transportation priority. As such, it is only eligible for a small amount of federal funding each year that is allocated by the state. These funds are a very small fraction of the estimated cost of this project. Statements by Proposition 2's opponents that federal funds can be found to fund this project are inaccurate.

Proposition 2's opponents state if this is approved, hospital renovation and other important infrastructure projects won't be possible. However, possible Bartlett future expansion is slated to come from reserves that the hospital is already putting aside. Other projects will be financed from specific sources such as the cruise ship head tax and airline ticket fees. Sewer infrastructure improvements will be financed with targeted state grants and loans from other capital projects-related sales taxes.

This is not an additional tax, but an extension of the existing tax. It will likely continue even if not used for this project. It's just a matter of what the money will be spent on. Other projects will be conjured up to spend the tax if Proposition 2 is defeated. But as far as I am concerned, this is the best use of those dollars.

Read the article in the Empire Voters Guide. Visit www.northdouglascrossing.com to see more facts. Look to Juneau's future. Make your voice heard with a yes vote for this important and reasonable project. Support and vote for Proposition 2.

• Mertz is a certified public accountant in Juneau.



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