My turn

Vote didn't decide road vs. ferry issue

Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2000

The unofficial tally is in, ferry or road, the verdict is ... undecided.

Splitting the vote 51-49 precludes any faction declaring a mandate. I can only wonder how the vote would have gone if we were not assured by our Anchorage governor that it did not matter what we wanted, we were not getting a road, and then be threatened by the specter of not having ferries funded if we were so impertinent as to ask for a road.

Considering that 49 percent of the voters opted to stand up and be counted for what was said to be unobtainable by our Anchorage governor, I think this is a moral victory for better access.

What I would really like to note is the mayoral candidates and marine union representatives who were saying that 50 percent of the population were a bunch of divisive whiners. The good Mr. Geldhof (a favorite source of quotes for the Empire) even sunk to new lows by feeling he had to disparage the lineage of anyone who wanted the road. Mr. Geldhof's asserts you could not be an "Alaskan" if you wanted the road. Why do you print it? Is 50 percent of Juneau un-Alaskan? Is it truly the pro-roaders who were being divisive? Of course we were -- we did not agree with his limited agenda! I would be embarrassed by Mr. Geldhof's remarks if I worked in the marine industry.

I believe a road would help solidify a year-round economy and improve the quality of life by providing a viable transportation system in this magnificent wilderness (as opposed to locking it up to only those with the time and money enough to access remote wilderness, like rich tourists), but I also believe that a marine system can be a viable transportation system. To that end I would like to make the following suggestions:

The first goal of any Southeast Alaska transportation system should be to serve the citizens of the state. The current system provided a good system in the '60s and '70s for the residents, but is now just a glorified tourist attraction. The future ferry's reservation system should not offer 800 numbers outside the state. A large block of vehicle spots should be held open as same-day passage. I find it a real stretch to call it a transportation system when you have to plan travel up to six months in advance.

We also need funding on a multi-year basis, and funding for it year-round. The current system leaves us at the whim of Railbelt legislators who think of our ferry system as a luxury. Winter service should be increased over current levels to encourage visitors to our city, and facilitate travel out for the wonderful recreation available in the mountain passes and to support the economies of our neighbors in Skagway, Haines and the Yukon. It would also encourage people to drive to Anchorage or Fairbanks rather than fly out of state to spend money. The ferries put Southeast Alaska at the whim of Anchorage governors and Railbelt legislators, who do not like to fund our marine transportation style and could care less if our economy matures and stabilizes.

Although I think ferries can meet an acceptable level of transportation standards, they will never provide the ease of access (a phrase synonymous with improved economy) that a road would offer. Sure there could be delays on the road, but just go out to the ferry terminal and count the hundreds of thousands of hours lost by having to show up two hours before the ferry arrives and then waiting extra hours for a) the ferry to show up, b) unload passengers, c) unload freight and cars, d) load passengers, e) load freight and cars, and f) depart. This will not change with fast ferries except that they will not be able to keep up with their schedule.

If you supported the ferries and did not sink to the "divisive, foreign, whiners argument," your views, opinions and wishes are every bit as valid as mine. Thank you for sticking by positive campaigning.

To those of you who stuck by a road, and did it in a civil manner, thank you. I believe you will be vindicated. My number is in the book if you want a supporter. But if it is a marine solution that must be, let's make it a good one that first serves the need of the Alaskan people, then the need of local, year-round businesses, then, and only then, acts as a cruise ship.

Real estate appraiser Robert E. Henricksen was born in Ketchikan, raised in Skagway and has lived in Juneau for 11 years.

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