DOT: Access road will cost $374 million

Department wants to break ground by next summer

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Juneau access road is projected to cost a total of $374 million, up from $273 million in 2005, according to a report released Monday by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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The new total includes $24 million that has already been spent on planning and design, and an estimated $350 million, plus 4 percent yearly inflation, to complete the project over 12 years.

The department hopes to break ground by next summer and is waiting on final approval and permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, expected in the next few months.

Completing the road across the rivers flowing into Berners Bay will cost a projected $80 million. The department already has $112 million from state and federal sources in hand for construction. Overall, the project will require $18.6 million per year over 12 years from

the state's federal highway aid program, which includes 9 percent state and

91 percent federal dollars. Those matching dollars from the state would

total about $20 million. Another $20 million is needed in state general fund

appropriations, bringing the total amount required from the state over 12

years to about $40 million.

The department plans to build a 50.8-mile extension of Glacier Highway from Echo Cove to just north of the Katzehin River. The project includes construction of a ferry terminal and shuttle ferries that will operate between Haines, Katzehin and Skagway.

Projected road costs

Changes from 2005 to 2007

• Echo Cove to Antler Slough

'05: $20 million; '07: $29.4 million.

• Berners Bay Crossing

'05: $32 million; '07: $50.2 million.

• Lace River to Independence Lake: (project shortened)

'05: $25 million; '07: $21.6 million.

• Independence Lake to Katzehin River:

'05: $80 million; '07: $127 million.

• Katzehin River to ferry terminal:

'05: $53 million; '07: $65 million.

• Engineering, mitigation, rounding:

'05: $11 million; '07: $16.4 million.

• Planning costs to date:

'05: $15 million; '07: $24 million.

• Total:

'05: $273 million; '07: $374 million.

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Dick Knapp of the Juneau-based group Citizens Pro Road said the new cost estimate is not surprising.

"The more the road gets delayed, the more it's going to cost," he said, adding that most who oppose the road are afraid of change.

"I respect the point of view that is based simply on not wanting change, but to put forth arguments that the road is dangerous, or it would destroy the ferry system, or there is no money available, is just plain wrong," he said.

Those opposed to the road also were quick to react to the announcement on Monday. Construction costs, though extraordinarily high, are only part of the cost of this project, said a statement by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a party in a lawsuit to stop the road.

"A dead-end road would threaten the fish and wildlife of Berners Bay and upper Lynn Canal as well as remove safe, reliable transportation for our communities," SEACC said.

Reuben Yost at the transportation department said the state has tried to avoid risks to wildlife and reduce them as much as possible. Mitigation will cost about $11 million.

Bridges will be built wider to allow wildlife to pass under them, bridges instead of culverts will be installed when the road crosses small streams, and the road will be shielded from view where Steller sea lions gather.

About $1.7 million will be provided to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to tag and track wildlife.

"Their concern is that there are going to be changes in those wildlife populations, changes in their movements, increased hunting, vehicle collisions, etc.," Yost said.

A lawsuit by conservation groups alleging the road plan is flawed is still in federal court in Anchorage.

Republican Gov. Sarah Palin supported the road when she ran for election last fall. Her office issued a statement Monday urging people to contact their lawmakers:

"The governor feels this road is a key part of the Department of Transportation's long-term plans for transportation throughout Southeast Alaska. It is also a huge and complex engineering project. As we wait to see if the Army Corps of Engineers can get the project permitted, the governor is encouraging local communities to send a message to the Legislature to fund this project."

Reception to the road idea is lukewarm in the Alaska Legislature, according to Lois Epstein, director of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, a nonprofit group that opposes the road.

"You are not going to find a strong proponent for the road in the Legislature," Epstein said.

Sen. Kim Elton and Rep. Beth Kerttula, both Democrats of Juneau, have questioned the costs of the project.

Epstein said the road would take away from other transportation priorities, noting her group supports the $712 million project connecting the Glenn Highway to Anchorage.

"At a time of limited state and federal resources for transportation, it would be a huge mistake for Gov. Palin to proceed with the Juneau road/ferry project since there currently is a ferry alternative. This costly project will benefit very few people statewide, and project money could be better spent on meeting higher-priority transportation needs," Epstein stated in an e-mail.

Yost said the Glenn Highway project is the "one project we couldn't say would not have a competing effect" for dollars slated for the Juneau road.

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