Feds join governor in ending Juneau road extension

Glacier Highway stretches north on Oct. 4, 2016. The federal government has joined Gov. Walker in deciding not to extend the road. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

The federal government has joined Gov. Bill Walker’s administration in choosing not to extend the road from Juneau 48 miles closer to Haines and Skagway.

Walker announced in 2016 that he wasn’t going ahead with the project. But the new Federal Highway Administration decision finalizes that choice.

Road opponents celebrated.

Buck Lindekugel, a lawyer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the project was ill-conceived.

“This is a huge victory for the Aak’w Kwáan, the original settlers of Juneau who were able to safeguard their ancestral lands from destructive road building,” Lindekugel said. “It’s a victory for folks who care about Berners Bay and the incredible fish and wildlife resources there.”

Lindekugel said the state should spend money the Legislature set aside for the project to fund improvements to the ferry docks in Haines and Skagway. The communities will be served by two new ferries.

Denny DeWitt of the First Things First Alaska Foundation, a pro-road group, characterized it as a setback.

“The option that this governor has chosen puts the project into limbo,” DeWitt said. “The federal folks signed off on his recommendation, and when we get a new governor we’ll talk to the new governor about proceeding with the project.”

It’s not clear how the state will spend $43 million it has set aside.

“It will remain in the account until an acceptable alternative concept to advance transportation access for Juneau is proposed and agreed upon by stakeholders,” Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said.

For now, the state loses access to the federal money for the project. The federal government would have covered more than 90 percent of the projected $574 million cost.

Landau said the state would seek a federal match for any project it funds with the money that’s set aside.

The state won’t have to repay federal money it already spent.

KTOO’s Jacob Resneck  contributed to this report.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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