Road is a poor solution

Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2003

There are few places on Earth better suited to marine transportation than Southeast Alaska. In this chain of island communities wedged between mountain and sea, where winter weather buries the roads and blinds the airways, it's no wonder that our Alaska Marine Highway System has become an integral part of our community and economy.

Unfortunately, if our governor has his way, our faithful ferries will soon be eBay'd into history.

In place of our yellow-striped blue canoes, the state would build a system of roads crossing islands with small (private) ferries shuttling between, scrapping the mainline service.

His pretense is that our highway doesn't pay its way.

So show me a highway that does! It's infrastructure, it's the foundation of our economy. And please, without smoke and mirrors, show me how these highways across remote rugged wilderness are going to be maintained with less subsidy than our boats and terminals. And show me how this would be cheaper and more efficient for us.

I don't think so.

Now I can't say that building roads won't bring temporary jobs and stimulus to our economy - so do prisons and oil spills. But I gotta wonder, is this a sustainable boost to our economy, is this how we really want to travel (if and when these roads, terminals and ferries are built), and who's going to provide and pay for maintenance?

Also, how do we get around in the meanwhile (without being held hostage by Homeland Security and Alaska Airlines)?

The governor's Marine Transportation Advisory Board plans to "run our ferries like a business" and "privatize." But the record on privatization so far shows that while a few corporate cronies make out like bandits, the public mostly loses. And the Canadian model they're selling us isn't exactly working as advertised. Surprise!

They say unions are the problem. So axing employees (taxpaying voting citizens) and replacing some of them with minimum-wage, no-benefit jobs is the solution. Is this really good for our local economy?

Seems to me if we want to have a ferry system that suits our needs, or any at all, we're going to have to decide what we want. And we're going to have to tell the governor, his transportation board, the Southeast Conference and our local representatives personally and regularly. Because right now it doesn't seem like they've got a clue.

Jim Demko


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