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Juneau's Road to Ruin

drive the Juneau roadThe Governor of Alaska has asked Congress for nearly $300 million dollars to build the Juneau Access Road. This costly and controversial project would require removal of 65 miles of pristine coastline along Lynn Canal, the longest and deepest fjord in North America. Taxpayers for Commonsense, in their report Roads to Ruin, calls this road one of the biggest transportation boondoggles in the country.

Here are the reasons:

In the affected communities the majority is against a road. The road would provide an asphalt link to Juneau, a town of 30,000 people. In a recent vote the majority of residents voted AGAINST a road and FOR ferry service. The communities of Haines and Skagway in Upper Lynn Canal have consistently opposed the road, asking for improved ferry service.

The Juneau Road would cut across 61 avalanche paths and six land slide areas. The state estimates that avalanches will keep the road closed for at least one month out of every year. In addition to navigating these dangers, a winding roadway along steep cliffs drivers would also have to contend with icy freeze-thaw conditions typical in Southeast Alaska.

In the over 30 years of operation, there have been no safety-related deaths on board the Alaska’s ferry system. Compare this with the 70 Americans who die on our nation’s rural roads each day, according to a September 2004 report from the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials.

Almost a million visitors sail through the inside passage each year on cruise ships and on the Alaska Marine Highway to view the spectacular Tongass National Forest. The Lynn Canal, one of the world’s deepest fjords, is a perennial favorite. Instead of a wilderness, visitors would view a trucks lumbering along a large scar across the mountain-side.

The road will put a ring of pavement around Berners Bay, most of which is a Congressionally protected wild land treasured for its scenic value and home to moose, bears, whales, beaver, salmon, sea lions, herring and bald eagles.

The proposed road would come within half a mile of 100 bald eagle nests and skirt two major Steller sea lion haulouts. One of these sea lion "beaches" has been designated as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite a brand new $40 million ferry for the Lynn Canal, the State is going back to the federal government to ask for another $281 million (or more) to build the Juneau Road.

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), funding the Juneau Road could cause the delay or elimination of other transportation projects currently in the state’s budget.

The state has argued that roads are cheaper to maintain than ferries, but the latest DOT study found that the Juneau Road will cost the state $7 million more than continuing with the current ferry service in the Lynn Canal when all of the costs are considered over a 30-year time period.

According to the DOT, building the road will not result in any significant economic development for Alaska. The only growth will be in the amount of Recreational Vehicles trying to squeeze into Juneau - DOT predicts the number of RVs in town could quadruple in the first year the road is completed.

Citing the state’s fiscal crisis, the governor said the state cannot afford to plow the existing roads. DOT has laid off highway maintenance workers in an attempt to shift responsibility for roads and harbors to local communities.

The State is a billion dollars in the hole for deferred maintenance for roads, harbors and other capitol projects.

DOT has poor record for accurately estimating the cost of similar mega-projects. The Whittier Tunnel actually cost $89 million, even though they originally estimated it would be $48 million.

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