Road cost unclear despite state's latest figures

Study finds 38 active rockfall hazards that could shut down access

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Alaska Department of Transportation does not know how much the Juneau access road will actually cost because the technical information on the route's geology is incomplete, a department representative confirmed this week.

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The department announced last week a new estimate on the road's cost, around $374 million, which includes $24 million spent to date on planning. That number was a result of a federal requirement that project costs be updated and reported annually.

In that report, DOT also is required to identify any risks that will prevent the road from being completed, said Reuben Yost of the transportation department.

A geological study commissioned by the department this summer identified 38

hazards which have either (a) been active in the past 25 years, and the

conditions that caused the hazard still exist, or (b) the hazards would

result in enough material to close the highway for several days to weeks and

substantially damage the road. The 51-mile road would run up the east of

side of Lynn Canal from just north of Berners Bay to the Katzehin River.

The report identified a total of 112 geological hazards along the road's route. About 38 of those hazards have affected the route in the last 25 years and have enough rock mass to close the highway for days to weeks, according to the report by Anchorage-based Golder Associates. Another 50 hazards affected the route more than 25 years ago, but if they became active again would close the highway for several hours to a few days.

As more geological studies are done, the department will know more about how many tunnels, retaining walls, snow sheds and bridges will have to be built to complete the longest phase of the road project.

Yost confirmed that the department doesn't know how much the road will ultimately cost because the geotechnical information is incomplete.

"We have an estimate of what it will cost," he said. "But we are not going to know how much the road will cost until we have it under contract."

The 361-page preliminary geological study, called the Golder Report, is available on the department's Web site, but it is difficult to download because of its size. The state has made it available on compact disc. The file contains hundreds of images and pictures illustrating the complex terrain and geology the road would traverse along the eastern edge of Lynn Canal.

While the department says it expects a decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers within the next several months, the Corps would not confirm or deny that timeline. A permit from the Corps still needs to be worked out before the road can go out for contract bids.

Pat Richardson, spokesperson for the Corps' Alaska district, said the Corps has probably given the state a time estimate, but she could not say what it is.

"We don't have a timetable," Richardson said. "Right now, we are finalizing our record of decision document. We still have some information that we are requesting from DOT. It's going to take as long as it takes."

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