- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

HAINES, Alaska (AP) - They came by plane and heard support for ferries.

On Oct. 15, a delegation from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities flew from Juneau to Haines to gather public comments on the Juneau Access Project, better known as The Road.

Since the early 20th century, residents of Juneau have attempted to gain support for a road between that city and the mainland road network. The DOT’s preferred proposal, at an estimated cost of $574 million, involves the extension of Juneau’s Glacier Highway to a new ferry terminal north of the mouth of the Katzehin River delta.

Project backers say it would make travel in and out of Juneau cheaper and faster.

At Tuesday’s hearing, there were few of those backers. Of the 27 people who offered testimony in public, the Capital City Weekly counted only five comments in support of the DOT’s preferred plan.

Among the 22 comments against the proposal, three offered support for a road that would travel down the west side of Lynn Canal to a ferry terminal directly west of Haines.

Five opponents offered support for an alternative that calls for improved ferry service between Juneau and Haines and Skagway.

Among them was Debra Schnabel, who extracted laughs from the audience of 70 people in the Chilkat Center for the Arts when she compared the Juneau Access Project to Ketchikan’s Gravina Island Bridge project.

Gov. Sarah Palin called that project a “Bridge to Nowhere” and canceled it.

“Where is Sarah when we need her?” Schnabel said jokingly.

Schnabel’s brother, Roger, was one of the five people who testified in favor of the project. Roger, president and owner of Southeast Road Builders, said he’s worked with the Alaska DOT on more than 100 projects, and he trusts that they can build a road safely and affordably. “With that faith, I think this project can be done and will be done environment-safe,” he said.

Many who spoke to the DOT board said they felt like DOT hasn’t listened to their opposition. The current Juneau road proposal has been ongoing since 1994, and many had already testified against it. “I am amazed to see this project come back before us again and again and again,” said Gerard Garlin.

“Just what is driving this when the overwhelming majority of the communities are opposed?” asked Richard Cook, an Alaska Marine Highway employee and Haines resident since 1996.

Haines’ frustration with The Road has at times turned heated. In September, more than 50 people crammed into the Haines Assembly chambers for a DOT planning meeting to voice their opposition to the plan.

October’s meeting was far less heated, possibly because DOT held a three-hour open house before the meeting to answer many questions, or possibly because residents simply don’t believe the long-anticipated project is anywhere close to breaking ground. “I appreciate you guys, and I’ll probably see you in a couple more years,” resident Scott Ramsey said after voicing his opposition.

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