My Turn: Road, capitol remain committee's priorities

Posted: Monday, October 25, 2004

The mission of the Alaska Committee is to make "government work better for Alaskans by improving and enhancing Juneau as Alaska's capital city." For nearly 30 years, however, the Alaska Committee and its predecessors have also functioned as Juneau's primary grassroots group to lead the efforts to defeat at least a half dozen capital or legislative move initiatives. We've learned a lot conducting those anti-move campaigns. But in every battle, the argument of the pro-move forces has focused on the issue of "access" to Alaska's capital.

After the 2002 election, in which we spent nearly $2 million fighting a legislative move, the Alaska Committee conducted extensive statewide research to document why people voted the way they did and determine how we might influence their attitudes. What we discovered was that access to the capital still remained a significant concern to many Alaskans. The results of that research, in large part, served as the basis for a new formal Action Plan.

Our research showed that on questions related to accessibility to the capital by road, 61 percent of those surveyed answered that a road was very important or somewhat important. 54 percent of respondents felt a road would lessen the desire to move the capital or the legislature. When asked an open-ended question, "What suggestions do you have that could be done to make Juneau a better capital . . ." 26 percent of the respondents volunteered that improving physical access - primarily with roads.

Our action plan formed the basis of a retreat that the Alaska Committee held in early 2003 with the Juneau Assembly. We discussed our various goals and the action steps we needed to take to get there. On the basis of that meeting, our action plan was revised and then presented to the Assembly for action. Subsequently, our action plan and budget were approved with "access" topping the list as one of our most important priorities.

Our action plan specifically stated that with the assistance and support of the Alaska Committee, the Juneau Assembly and our legislative delegation would take an active role in requesting, monitoring and supporting the Department of Transportation's Lynn Canal road access option.

Two years later, this goal still remains a priority. Not everyone may agree on our goals but I firmly believe that the capital city must promote the most cost-effective and most convenient access possible. Anything less than that and we run the risk of losing the Legislature or the entire capital.

If our mission is to be proactive, instead of strictly reactive, it is imperative that we take the lead on improving access. We must be responsive to the concerns of all Alaskans and address the "access" issue in a meaningful way. We simply can't wait for capital move efforts to reach a fevered pitch and then try to put out the fire. We have done that successfully in the past but it has cost enormous amounts of money.

Obviously, we have continued our work in other areas as well. The Alaska Committee has worked with the mayor and the Capitol Planning Commission to formulate a plan to build a new capitol building in Juneau. This project has the full support of Gov. Murkowski. The capitol project and the road project are both important projects for Juneau and both deserve our support. They are not competing projects, as they will be funded separately by completely different means. While they are separate projects, they are also complementary projects. It makes no sense to build a new capitol that the rest of Alaska cannot access inexpensively and conveniently.

The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Lynn Canal transportation options will be completed within a matter of weeks. Concerns about costs and the environment will be addressed extensively and I feel confident that any road that is built can be engineered in such a way that it will be safe. Road access to the capital city will complement the proposed new capitol. Together, the two projects will provide an accessible capital of which the entire state can be proud.

• Win Gruening is the chairman of the Alaska Committee.

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