Quit trying to catch up to '50s model

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2007

It is so easy to criticize the Alaska Marine Highway System. Over the past 25 years the politicians of Alaska have made sure of that. But let's give our new governor a chance to reform the state's systems, including the ferry system. To do that, the first thing she needs to do is make it clear to people that the ferries are part of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The marine highway system is public transportation.

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For decades our politicians have locked themselves, and by extension us, into schemes that tie us to a 1950s model of development that involves road building. Just as an example, the FBI's current investigations of Rep. Don Young's fundraising and project funding connections are about his tenure on the House Transportation Committee. He's paying his legal bills with a campaign fund made up of donations from contributors with interests in road building projects. Naturally, Young's involvement with this funding cycle has led him to bring home road building projects, whether we need them or not. It has discouraged him from supporting public transportation in Alaska.

In the future, Americans will not be able to think in terms of how many miles per gallon a vehicle gets on the road. We will have to think of how many people per gallon can be transported. But, the cycle of political corruption in Alaska has kept us on the trail of trying to catch up with the 1950s transportation model instead of living up to our motto, "North to the Future." Don't despair; Alaska is way ahead of the game with our miles of coastline and riverbank. These are roads that we not only don't have to build, but we also don't have to maintain them.

The governor can capitalize on this advantage for public transportation in Alaska by acting to undo the big error made in transportation strategy. Move the southern terminus of the marine highway back to Seattle. If public transportation is going to work, it has to first take people where they want to go. If it's going to work, it needs to access a population of potential riders.

We can make this boat go, Gov. Sarah Palin, but we have to make a course change to do that. A total overhaul of the transportation systems in Alaska can begin with something that I promise you will be met with a positive reaction from us Southeast residents.

Carol Cairnes


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