Alaska editorial: Governor needs to leave the Juneau road alone

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2006

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

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We didn't think it was possible, but the Murkowski administration has found a way to make a bad project even worse.

The Alaska Department of Transportation couldn't afford the 23-mile gravel extension of the road north of Juneau that it wanted. So it dropped two expensive bridges and a 5-mile section of road from the middle and is negotiating a contract for two unconnected road segments totaling about 18 miles.

Amazing.

At more than $30 million in state funds, it's even more amazing. And pointless too.

Assuming the Murkowski administration succeeds in rushing into this contract in its final days, Gov.-elect Sarah Palin's first official act after she is sworn in Monday should be to cancel the deal. Whatever penalty the state might have to pay to walk away from the contract would be a bargain compared to paying full price.

It would be premature to spend millions of dollars on a couple of temporary gravel road segments that may never go anywhere except to the water's edge - even if the state claims someday there would be barge landings on either side of the water for shuttling vehicles back and forth.

It would be premature to claim the work would be the start of a real road to Juneau when opponents are challenging the full project in court, when it lacks its required federal permits, and when it is at least a quarter-billion dollars short of what would be needed for pavement, guardrails, bridges and all the other basics of a real road.

Spending $30 million or so on an 18-foot-wide gravel "pioneer road," as the Department of Transportation calls it, is not progress, despite what its supporters say. It's wasteful state spending to fulfill the governor's agenda. It's throwing good money into the air, hoping someday the gravel road segments will lead somewhere.

The Department of Transportation had originally planned to award a contract for the start of a real road this month but cut it back to the short gravel road to stay within the budget of state funds. That's because it's illegal to spend federal cash on the project until all of the permits are issued. The department was in such a hurry, it gave contractors just seven days to bid the downsized job. There were only two bids, both double the department's estimate, so the state is negotiating to buy as much road as it can for $30 million.

Gov. Frank Murkowski has worked toward the long-debated road to Juneau ever since he took office in December 2002. But lack of funding, lack of federal permits and lack of enthusiastic legislative and community support has hampered the effort. He wants so much to start the job before he leaves office, but he's not going to get a real road going and he shouldn't get this pointless imitation going either.

Sorry, governor, but that's the way the crushed rock crumbles.



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