Officials celebrate Juneau seawalk improvements

The single busiest spot in Juneau during the summer cruise ship season may be South Franklin Street in front of the Mount Roberts Tramway building. Up to five of the massive ships can be in town at once, each unloading and reloading thousands of crew and passengers in a few hours. There are buses, container trucks, float planes, and aerial tram cars all coming and going within a few hundred feet of each other.

And, it’s surprisingly orderly.

On Friday, there was also a ribbon cutting ceremony there attended by about 45 city and state officials, contractors and local business owners. They celebrated new pedestrian and parking improvements on the busy cruise ship waterfront.

The tourists footing much of the bill went about their sightseeing and shopping, while liberal thanks were paid to the officials and workers involved.

“As an engineer, I do really appreciate concrete, asphalt, curb and gutter,” said Juneau Rep. Sam Kito III. “I mean, the things that people might not necessarily appreciate have a lot of aesthetics to me. The efficiencies of moving pedestrians and moving vehicles is underappreciated. I’m enjoying being here, on concrete, near asphalt seeing this whole project work.”

It wasn’t always so orderly. Kirby Day remembers back in 1993, before much of this stuff was here.

“Looking out here, this was all just dirt. There was no tram, there was not much anything. And at that time when we lined buses up, we tried to lime the lines, and then it’d rain, and, you know, it disappeared. And then we put (out) barrels,” said Day, who is the director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and longtime point man for cruise ship relations in Juneau. “We’d come out at night and set the barrels up, and that’s where the buses were supposed to go, and then they’d come the next morning, and the operators really didn’t like it there, so they’d just move them. So, this will be a little bit better for all, I hope.”

The improvements are part of a long-term city plan to create a continuous, mile-and-a-half long seawalk from the Juneau-Douglas Bridge to the AJ Dock, the cruise ship berth farthest from downtown.

Patricia Stancil, visiting from Pensacola, Florida, was sitting on a bench nearby during the ceremony. She wasn’t sure what the ceremony was about, but was in the ballpark.

“It sounds he was trying to raise funds to improve the city or whatever it is,” Stancil said.

Stancil, and millions of other visitors like her over the years, have paid millions toward Juneau’s public waterfront infrastructure through cruise ship passenger fees the city and state collect.

Friday’s ribbon cutting specifically celebrated the completion of a $3 million contract for reconfiguring a bus and pedestrian staging area, and a nearly complete $3.4 million contract to extend the seawalk.

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