New poll riles advocates of Juneau road

Statewide survey conducted by critics shows 80 percent of Alaskans don't support project

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Juneau access road opponents conducted a statewide poll that they said shows 80 percent of Alaskans would rather the state spend money on their local transportation projects than on building the road.

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Advocates for the road said the poll used faulty questioning and incorrect figures. They point to polls they've conducted that show just the opposite: About 55 percent of people in Alaska favor road access to Juneau.

The new poll was conducted by the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project. Pollsters called 400 voting households statewide and results contained a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

The callers first told people the road would cost $350 million to $500 million, then asked if they'd prefer that money be spent on the road or on "local transportation repairs, maintenance and upgrades."

They then asked if people would use the road if it was built, and 81 percent responded they would not.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities estimates the road will cost $374 million, but says unknowns exist and the total price tag is unclear.

The poll is the latest move to involve the rest of the state in the debate about a road out of Juneau. The proposed 51-mile road highway would run along the east side of Lynn Canal to a ferry terminal where passengers could travel on to Skagway.

Road advocates point to resolutions of support for the road by the Alaska Legislature.

Representatives of various cities, however, expressed a sense of general ambivalence toward the project from constituents, but still thought people support a capital with road access.

"You often hear on the talk shows people complaining that Juneau is distant, far away, hard to get to. (As far as building an actual road) I haven't heard it discussed much. It's not one of our burning issues," said Patrick Cole, chief of staff for the former Fairbanks mayor, whose term ended this week.

The Fairbanks City Council unanimously approved a resolution in February in support of the road, now called the Lynn Canal Highway. That resolution was proposed by John Brown, a representative of the highway engineers union. Brown said the idea for the resolution was proposed by road advocates in Juneau. There wasn't much discussion on the resolution, Cole said.

Haines and Skagway have consistently opposed the road. The cities of Anchorage and Kenai have not taken up the topic in the past few years, according to their city clerks.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said the actual road project just hasn't been a topic of discussion, but she thought people want better access to the capital.

"That is a concern. People would like to have easier access to it, not just air," Porter said.

Julie Hasquet, communications director in the Anchorage mayor's office, also said it's not a big topic in that city.

"I've worked in the mayor's office for four years and I haven't heard much discussion of that project," Hasquet said.

Mike Korsmo, a tugboat captain who lives in Skagway and is opposed to the road, pushed for an education campaign.

"I've always been curious about what people in the Interior thought about the Juneau access road. I've always wondered if there should be an education process for people in the Interior, that explained the basics about the project," Korsmo said.

Back in Juneau, road advocates said the poll delivered its question in a negative context. Pollsters should have given people a choice between the road and subsidies for the ferry system, they said.

"People are always going to want their own potholes fixed first," said Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, a group that promotes keeping the capital in Juneau.

"Support for the Lynn Canal Highway still remains the single most visible way Juneau can demonstrate to the rest of the state that it is serious about improving access to the capital city," Gruening said.

Ann Hays, with Hays Research Group, which conducted the poll, said the questions followed national poll standards.

"If you disagree with the results, you always criticize the methodology," she said.

Lois Epstein, director of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, said the questions were presented in a "realistic" way. She said it would not have been accurate to pose a choice between the road and a ferry system subsidy, because the $80 million per-year subsidy goes to the whole ferry system.

She said people are looking at federal money drying up and Alaska will have to make choices on where to spend the money it does get.

"Alaska has become notorious throughout the country in terms of how much money we got," Epstein said. "The earmarks and the bridges to nowhere did not help the state. It's possible our money situation is going to drop. There's going to be a lot of tradeoffs."

• Contact Amanda Fehd at 523-2276 or amanda.fehd@juneauempire.com.



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