Funding for pro-road group approved by Juneau Assembly

At a budget belt-tightening meeting Wednesday, the Juneau Assembly teed up $20,000 for a pro-road group that’s backing the Juneau Access Project.

Gov. Bill Walker effectively killed the divisive road project in December by pulling the state’s financial support.

Berners Bay
The view of Berners Bay from Cascade Point. The Juneau Access Lynn Canal Highway would be built through this area. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities)

The pro-road First Things First Alaska Foundation penned a letter to the Assembly’s Finance Committee this week asking for $20,000 for a transportation survey.

The group also would spend $8,000 of its own money to pay for the professional survey, but didn’t name the polling firm it had in mind.

Would the survey help the group’s cause to extend the road?

“I think it would. But we’re willing to roll the dice and find out,” said Denny DeWitt, executive director of the First Things First Alaska Foundation.

Neither he nor anyone from the group attended Wednesday’s meeting to make the pitch.

The Assembly voted 6-3 to approve the money.

That vote mirrored a contentious resolution passed in January to support the Juneau Access Project, which would extend Juneau’s road system by 50 miles up Lynn Canal and shorten the ferry connection to Skagway.

During both votes, opposition came from Juneau Assembly members Jesse Kiehl, Loren Jones and Maria Gladziszewski.

The 6-3 majority’s enthusiasm for the road isn’t matched by Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, which pulled the plug on the $574 million project last year.

DeWitt makes the case that extending highways wouldn’t harm the state ferry system.

He argues shorter travel distances would make maritime transport more efficient to run.

“What we’re seeing now is a ferry system trying to protect and operate itself without really looking at other types of transportation modes that can in fact help strengthen it,” he said.

The Juneau Assembly also voted to grant $20,000 to Southeast Conference which advocates for the ferry.

The Assembly decided not to mothball the city’s arboretum or the Eagle Valley Center.

This comes at a time that the Assembly is trying to find ways to make deep cuts to close a $1.9 million shortfall before it passes its budget next month.

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