My Turn: Positive things about the Lynn Canal Highway

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2007

If Alaska Airlines reduced its fares to Anchorage by 90 percent, it would have to quadruple its daily jet service in and out of Juneau to meet travel demand. When the Lynn Canal Highway is built and the cost to travel in northern Southeast is reduced by 90 percent, travel in and out of Juneau will expand exponentially. Imagine a Juneau family able to take their family of four and a vehicle to Haines for only $33 and then enjoy access to the Interior, the Yukon and the entire North American road system.

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Yes, the Lynn Canal Highway is going to cost more than originally anticipated. Just about every project recently completed or now under construction cost more than was original planned. Good examples are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility, Thunder Mountain High School and Bartlett Regional Hospital expansion. Just to replace a mainline ferry has increased from $125 million to $250 million over the last four years. Why have costs increased? Because building materials and labor costs have been increasing rapidly every year and there's been a major devaluation of the American dollar, which affects purchasing foreign products such as steel.

The Department of Labor has just released its latest population projections to the year 2030, and Juneau and the rest of Southeast had better take note. According to these statistics, Juneau population will be stagnant at around 32,000 for the next 20-plus years and the rest of Southeast will go into a steep population decline. Haines is projected to lose almost 30 percent of its population base. Overall Southeast is projected to lose five thousand people. That's equivalent to wiping out the communities of Petersburg and Wrangell over the next 20 years. This is pretty scary stuff.

However, with the construction of the Lynn Canal Highway which is now anticipated to cost $350 million, most of that money will be pumped into the Southeast economy over the next 6 to 12 years, employing hundreds of construction workers whose average salaries would be upwards of $80,000 a year. Local businesses would sell millions of dollars worth of supplies to support the needs of the construction camps. Once the Highway is completed, new permanent jobs would be created to support the increased traffic generated by the Lynn Canal Highway.

Some dwell on the possibility of avalanches and rock slides and the anticipated closure of the highway for up to 30 days a year. Potential hazards will be mitigated through good engineering to keep the traveling public reasonably safe. According to the Environmental Impact Statement, when the road is closed due to a threat of avalanches or rock slides, the shuttle ferry that provides daily service between the Katzehin River and Haines would be diverted to shuttle passengers from Haines to Auke Bay or an emergency ferry terminal in or near Berners Bay. What this means is that the road may be closed for up to 30 days a year, but service between Haines and Juneau will continue as usual.

A huge benefit of the Lynn Canal Highway is that once the road is constructed, unlike ferries, it will not have to be replaced every 30 to 50 years. The highway will make Alaska's Capital City more accessible to the rest of the State and with Juneau becoming the northern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System, this will free up ferries to provide improved service elsewhere in Southeast. The Lynn Canal Highway will also open up countless recreational opportunities in northern Alaska and the Yukon for the people of Juneau to enjoy. Let's focus on the positive and just get it done.

• Rich Poor has 31 years of transportation experience and has served seven years on the Juneau Assembly. He is the treasurer of Citizens Pro Road and lives in Juneau.

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