Gov. Walker lets Juneau road money stand, but maintains no-build policy

The end of the road, May 25, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh)

Gov. Bill Walker committed $21 million to the Juneau Access Project with his signature Wednesday on the state’s capital budget.

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Back in 2016, the governor decided against building the ever-controversial road megaproject citing the state’s fiscal crisis. Why was the road money spared the veto?

Business interests, environmentalists, politicians and neighbors in JuneauHaines and Skagway have gone round and round for years on whether to build the road.

“We’re delighted that the money was left in the budget, it’s back where it belongs and it gives us an opportunity to continue working on an important project for Juneau,” Denny DeWitt, head of the pro-road First Things First Alaska Foundation, said.

“We were disappointed in Gov. Walker’s decision not to veto this dead end project, given his opposition to wasteful megaprojects,” Buck Lindekugel, attorney with the environmental group Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said. “But we urge him to continue to press his DOT commissioner to issue a decision selecting the no-build alternative this summer and address our other pressing transportation needs expeditiously.”

They’re referring to money lawmakers cobbled together for the road late in this year’s legislative session, which came from past, unspent transportation earmarks for upper Lynn Canal.

It’s a small victory for road supporters. Major hurdles to get to construction are still there.

Like securing huge federal grants, which largely hinges on reversing Walker’s 2016 decision not to build the road.

The governor’s spokesman Austin Baird said Walker’s policy on the road isn’t shifting. He said the governor didn’t veto the road money because it didn’t draw from new general fund money.

Previously, state plans called for extending Glacier Highway in Juneau about 48 miles north to the Katzehin River.

A new ferry terminal would be built there for a short trip to the road system via Haines or Skagway. State estimates from 2014 put the initial construction cost at $574 million.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation’s final environmental review document on the project is expected this summer. Presumably, it will confirm the governor’s no-build decision.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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