Alaska capital budget re-appropriates half of Juneau Access money

A sign at the end of Glacier Highway in October 2016. The Juneau Access Improvements Project extension would begin here.

A sign at the end of Glacier Highway in October 2016. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Late last year, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said he would not pursue construction of the controversial Juneau Access Project.

The project’s goal was to improve transportation between Juneau and the road-system-connected Haines and Skagway.

After Walker’s decision not to move forward with the road extension, people wondered what would happen to millions of dollars earmarked for it.

The passage of a capital budget last week gives some indication, though it’s still unclear exactly what the Juneau Access money will be used for.

Walker proposed re-appropriating all $47 million to other transportation and infrastructure needs in Northern Southeast.

House Capital Budget Coordinator Paul LaBolle said that was a sticking point during negotiations.

The Senate wanted to get rid of Walker’s re-appropriation, the House majority wanted to keep it. So, they met in the middle. About $21 million stays in the Juneau Access pot, and $21 million goes to Lynn Canal transportation and infrastructure. (Four million dollars went to Kivalina school construction.)

“It’s important to me that the money stays in the region,” Walker said.

Walker was in Haines shortly after the legislature agreed on a capital budget.

He attended the Southeast Alaska State Fair with his family and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott.

When asked what brought him to the fair, Walker quipped “the Fairweather.” (The Fairweather is an Alaska Marine Highway ferry.) “I had not been on a ferry in a while, so it was good to be on one today.”

It’s the ferry system that many residents in Haines and Skagway want the state to focus on.

Walker visited the Upper Lynn Canal last fall, as he was deliberating on the future of Juneau Access.

Residents here said they wanted the state to invest in a stronger, more reliable ferry system, not a road.

Walker did not say whether the $20 million re-appropriated for Lynn Canal infrastructure would be invested in the marine highway.

“You know, that’s one of the things that I’m looking at, to see if there are projects in the works,” Walker said. “I’m not sure that there are at this point. There’s other uses for portions of it. In fiscal times like this, every dollar finds a home. There’s a lot of tugging and pulling at that money, I’ll tell you that.”

The Department of Transportation also does not have an answer yet about the fate of the re-appropriated Juneau Access money.

“There are no specific projects listed in that appropriation right now,” DOT spokeswoman Aurah Landau said. “At a later date, a process will be set up to determine the use of those funds.”

In addition to the general health of the ferry system, there are other expensive Haines and Skagway transportation and infrastructure projects on the horizon.

For example, Skagway needs a new ferry dock. DOT says replacing the dock would cost about $26 million.

Haines’ Lutak Dock is in desperate need of repair. That facility is the town’s entryway for freight and fuel. The cheapest repair is price tagged at $21 million.

So, as Walker implied, it may be a tug-of-war for the Juneau Access millions.

Alaska has a lot going on right now.

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