A survey gives us percentages, numbers. The interpretation gives us a "spin." Jack Cadigans' letter in Sunday's Empire pointed this out.
According to the survey 52 percent of Juneauites want a road north, 36 percent by a road on the east side and 16 percent by a road on the west side. Thirty-six percent chose improved ferry service. How do we interpret these numbers? Does the survey accurately reflect the opinions of the citizens of Juneau, Skagway and Haines?
No survey is perfect and, as Mr. Cadigan noted, reviewing the actual questions is necessary for a thorough understanding of the results. As the numbers above indicate, the survey does confirm that Juneau is still significantly split over whether a road should be built to Skagway or Haines. Other questions seem to confirm some of the fears the residents of Haines and Skagway have been expressing - that people would likely travel more frequently to Juneau for shopping, impacting the viability of their local businesses.
In reviewing the survey you also have to take note of the questions that were not asked as well as the background information that was not given. Of note in this respect is that the survey never mentioned the possibility that the road will still be a toll road, as it was in the 1997 draft Environmental Impact Statement. Asking the respondents if a toll would affect their preferences and travel plans may have produced quite different results. The survey also never specified just what "improved ferry service" is. Another recently completed McDowell study, commissioned by the state, produced results that indicate fast ferry service between Haines, Skagway and Juneau would compare quite favorably with DOT's East Lynn Canal road proposal in terms of convenience, reliability (particularly in winter) and time of travel between Haines and Juneau. Importantly, it would also result in significant cost savings to the state over our present system.
"Convenience," "reliability" (particularly in winter), maintenance cost to the state and "time of travel" were the main reasons given by pro-road respondents of the most recent telephone survey as to why they favored road access. It is not unreasonable to assume that more information about just what "improved ferry service" means would have affected the survey's results.