Juneau commits $250,000 for new Douglas crossing

By June 15, 2018 August 31st, 2018 Community, Juneau, Local Government, Transportation
The Douglas Bridge as seen from the 1600 block of Evergreen Avenue, Juneau. The Juneau area experienced highs in the 60s on Thursday, May 17, 2018. The National Weather Service forecast a partially cloudy Saturday and rain was possible late Sunday. (Photo courtesy Tripp J Crouse)

The Douglas Bridge as seen on May 17, 2018, is the only vehicle link between Douglas Island and the mainland. For decades city planners have wanted to add a second crossing to the north. (Photo courtesy Tripp J Crouse)

Renewed efforts to build a second crossing to Douglas Island are afoot after the Juneau Assembly earmarked $250,000 toward the concept. Voters soundly rejected a previous plan.

The Douglas Bridge is the only way for cars to get on and off Douglas Island. Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch wants another way.

“We need a second crossing in case anything ever happens to the bridge or a major accident,” Koelsch said.

Last month Koelsch inserted $250,000 into the city’s $335 million budget to study a second crossing.

The mayor cited public safety as just one reason.

“But it would also, in the future master plans, open up West Douglas,” Koelsch said, “which is seen as a very good prospect for housing, a very good prospect for a deep-water port.”

The Juneau Chamber of Commerce had written to the Assembly last month suggesting it commit $2 million towards the project.

“We think the $250,000 would certainly get the process started,” Executive Director Craig Dahl said. “And in order for that project to become a priority in the state’s eyes, if it’s believed to be an important project to the City and Borough of Juneau, it would be able to rise and possibly get on their STIP list sooner than later.”

That’s Alaska’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program run by the state Department of Transportation.

DOT regional spokeswoman Aurah Landau said the city’s seed money could help start the conversation between local and state planners.

“There’s no funding for the project on the books at this point,” she said. “But this a high priority, we know, for entities in Juneau and should there be funding, then that would start DOT’s looking at the different engineering issues.”

Now that there’s money is in the budget it’ll be up to the Juneau Assembly to decide how exactly it’s spent.

A second crossing for Douglas Island isn’t a new concept. Serious consideration dates back at least to the 1980s.

A proposition was put on the 2010 ballot to dedicate 10 years of sales tax revenue to fund the project locally.

Boosters wanted to build a causeway from Sunny Point on the mainland across the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

“It had enormous fiscal problems because it would tie up all of that sales tax money and it had serious environmental problems because it really would have significantly degraded the Mendenhall refuge,” said Juneau attorney Jon Tillinghast, a vocal critic of that plan.

More than two-thirds of voters rejected the initiative.

But Tillinghast said the opposition coalesced around the method: a causeway from Sunny Point and the funding: local sales tax dollars.

A second link to Douglas Island wouldn’t necessarily be controversial, he said.

In fact, a city-funded survey earlier this year found a second crossing received strong public support.

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