Juneau road's advocates, critics remain intransigent after state revises costs

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

Advocates and critics of the Juneau access road have not wavered in their stances since news last week that the road will cost $100 million more than expected in 2005, or about $374 million.

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Brad Fluetsch, a financial planner and road advocate, said the 51-mile road along the east side of Lynn Canal must be built no matter how much it costs.

"One, whatever the cost is, it's never going to get cheaper. And two, the economic impact of the road will pay for itself," Fluetsch said. "We are just absolutely primitive in our transportation, and we've got people that are just so glued to the old system, or they are intentionally trying to screw it up, meaning the greenies; they just want Southeast to die. They want it to be a park."

Norman Smith, a Haines resident who described himself as pro-ferry, and not against the road, said he worries about state Department of Transportation estimates that the road will be closed 33 days out of the year due to bad weather.

"I love the concept of the road, but the idea of the road ended when the National Park Service said you are not running that road into Skagway," Smith said.

The road is planned to end at the Katzehin River, where ferries will shuttle cars to Haines and Skagway, because the National Park Service would not allow construction of the highway through an area that includes a wildlife and waterfowl refuge and historic site.

"The Juneau Access Project is a misnomer. It should be called Juneau Escape, because it seems like all they want to do is get out of there," Smith said.

Murray Walsh, who is active in economic development issues in Juneau, said the new price hasn't changed his mind.

"The cost of building road projects is going up all over the place. But the same things that drive the cost for the road also are driving up costs for big steel boats (ferries)."

He said there's a strong incentive to finish the road once it has started, because the state would have to pay back what the federal government incurred up to that point. The federal government is financing most of the project.

"Obviously there's a point where ferries start to compete again, north of $1 billion, you'd have to start to looking at ferries again," Walsh said.

Dean Williams, a 90-year resident of Juneau, said his biggest concern about the road is safety issues exacerbated by the fjord's geology.

"The most dangerous thing of having that road is the 600-foot-deep water out there at the shoreline. There's no way to survive an avalanche. I think Juneau would get the worst possible reaction from the rest of the world if we lose a busload of kids. I'm not against the road if they could build it safe, but so far they aren't coming anywhere near it."

Mike Miller, a mountaineer, and 15-year resident of Juneau, said he's concerned about uncertainties raised in the Golder Report, a geological study commissioned by the department.

"I think the DOT is misleading the public and the state on the true cost of the project," he said. "How can you tell the truth when you read the whole Golder Report and it's full of uncertainties?"

Miller thinks it doesn't make sense to build a road when there's a body of water right next to it that can be used to transport people.

"If the cruise ship industry can move 900,000 people between Juneau and Skagway in four months, you'd think the state could figure out (how to move Juneau's 30,000 people on ferries)."

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