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I 've been a long-time supporter of building a road from Juneau to Skagway.
However, after reading Thursday's newspaper article titled "Survey says Juneau Split on Road Debate" it became clear to me the importance of finding a compromise plan that the residents of Juneau, Haines and Skagway can all come together on. This plan would then be presented to the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the preferred alternative for the region.
The alternative plan I am suggesting is as follows:
1. Build 50 miles of road from Echo Cove to the Katzehin River, which is directly across Lynn Canal from Haines.
2. Build two small ferries to service Haines, one mile away, and Skagway, 14 miles away.
3. Build three small ferry terminals at Katzehin River, Haines and Skagway to handle loading and unloading of vehicles and foot traffic.
4. Turn the existing ferry terminals in Haines and Skagway into cruise ship ports to accommodate projected increases in cruise ship traffic.
5. Make the Auke Bay ferry terminal the northern terminus of the Marine Highway System.
6. Support the designation of Berners Bay as a state park or wilderness preserve.
This plan will not meet everyone's expectations or ideology, but it will provide a good compromise and will serve the best interest of the region as a whole.
This plan will vastly reduce cost and greatly increase surface access for traveling in and out of Alaska's capital city; will reduce any economic impact on Haines and Skagway; will be less costly than the "all-road" alternative; will still provide a certain amount of isolation for Juneau; will reduce distance travel by the Alaska Marine Highway system in Sooutheast Alaska by 25 percent, therefore allowing increased ferry service to other communities south of Juneau; will allow Skagway to continue being the main port for the Yukon; will assure Haines is not bypassed as a main access port to Juneau; will allow Haines and Skagway improved emergency access to Juneau's larger medical community; will provide increased moorage capacity for cruise ships in Haines and Skagway; will elevate the status of Berners Bay, protecting it from future land swaps or development; and will provide road access for workers at the proposed Kensington Mine.
We need to find a solution for improving access to Juneau that receives strong public support from all impacted communities and it must be accomplished quickly. The two new fast ferries under construction will be a nice addition to an aging fleet, but the three Alaska Marine Highway ferries (Taku, Matanuska and Malaspina) will have to be replaced by 2010, leaving a big hole in the the ferry system in seven years. The new fast ferry goes twice as fast as a mainline ferry, but only carries half of the passengers and a third of the vehicles. Also, the state just recently sold the M/V Bartlett on eBay, reducing the statewide fleet from nine to eight vessels.
Now, it isn't hard to do the math and realize that the Marine Highway system is going to be in real trouble in the not too distant future and Juneau will be greatly impacted if we can't find an agreeable solution. We must also remember that the Legislature has not been very supportive of continuing to subsidize the AMH, especially with the shortfall in the state budget. And even if we come together and select an alternative similar to the one identified here, it will still take DOT years to get it built. Time is now our enemy and if we don't act quickly access to Juneau will be even worse than it is today.
Let do something folks.
Rich Poor is a lifelong Juneau resident who worked for 31 years with the state Department of Transportation and served seven years on the Juneau Assembly.