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It was announced by Governor Walker and Lt Governor Byron Mallott on Thursday, that they have selected the no-build alternative for the Juneau Access Improvement Project that would have built a 50-mile road extension to the yet-to-be built ferry terminal.
The move frees up $38 million in state funds that were remaining for the project. Governor Walker said that those funds will be used for other transportation and capital projects in the Juneau area.
Walker said that undoubtedly, many in the area would be disappointed in the administration’s decision to halt the project.
“I am a builder by background and understand the importance of construction projects, but I am very concerned with our current multi-billion dollar fiscal crisis and must prioritize the need for fiscal resolution,” Governor Walker said in a press release announcing the decision. “I’m grateful to the many great Alaskans who shared their knowledge and perspectives with me about this issue. I listened and learned from all of you. I flew the route and spoke with lots of folks equally divided on this project. I made this difficult decision after reviewing all litigation and all federal regulatory decisions on this project to date. Above all, I was reminded that Southeast Alaska communities are deeply interconnected, with or without roads, and I pledge to do what I can to support and strengthen those critical economic and social ties.”
“I participated in many of the dozens of Juneau Access meetings initiated by Governor Walker,” said Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, a long-time Southeast resident. “The review was exhaustive and thorough. Alaska’s need for fiscal certainty loomed large throughout and in that light the correct decision was made.”
Juneau’s Representative Sam Kito reacted to the announcement, saying “I think the Governor has made the right decision given our current fiscal situation, especially because the increased operational costs would have been added to the Department of Transportation’s budget if one of the build options had been selected.” Rep. Sam Kito (D-Juneau) continued, saying, “My experience as an engineer has taught me to look closely at promises and pitfalls of any situation and, in balance, the Juneau Access project raised more red flags than green for me.”
The Juneau Access Project had an estimated cost of $574 million and would have cost an additional Z$5 million a year to operate.
“By stopping this project the state can reallocate $38.6 million to the region’s other pressing transportation infrastructure needs,” said Rep. Kito. “I support the Governor’s effort to consult with stakeholders in the region to determine the best use of that money.”
Senator Dennis Egan, was angry with Walker’s decision. “I’ve supported this project since statehood. I’m very disappointed my three largest communities will lose the benefit from improved transportation, commerce and tourism,” Egan said.
“I had several meetings with the governor to tell him about the benefits to both industry and individuals: jobs, travel, lower freight costs, and better access to and from the state capital,” Egan said. “There’s no disputing it, the jobs this access project would create could have helped stabilize the entire region.”
The plans for the project go back to 1993. It was temporarily halted in 2015. By selecting the no-build alternative, the state will not be obligated to re-pay $28 million back to the federal government. The state and federal government will determine how to spend the remaining $6 million earmarked for the project.