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Juneau's Road to Nowhere Snared in Legal Roadblock

Dean Williams

Client Spotlight

"Ferries beat a road any day in terms of cost, safety, maintenance, and protecting our wildlife."
- Dean Williams
91-year Juneau resident


A Bad Idea Then, A Bad Idea Now
For decades, some Alaska politicians have dreamed of using U.S. taxpayer dollars to build a road north from Juneau along the rugged, avalanche-prone fiord known as Lynn Canal, an area served since 1951 by territorial, and later state, ferries.  In 2002, then-Governor Frank Murkowski breathed new life into the old dream when he unshelved the Juneau Access EIS, which had been abandoned because a majority of the residents of the affected communities prefer the reliability and low environmental impacts of ferry service over a dangerous and expensive road.  The Anchorage Daily News said the governor "wants to build roads the way beavers want to build dams."

Proposed Road Disrupts Wildlife Habitat
Completed in 2006, the flawed EIS named as the preferred alternative the construction of a 51-mile road up the east side of Lynn Canal -- through one of the largest roadless areas in any national forest -- to a new ferry terminal at a river estuary southeast of Haines. The route passes within about a football-field length of nearly 50 bald eagle nests and would come just as close to a heavily used Steller sea lion haulout, while passing through the heart of an area designated as critical habitat for this threatened species of marine mammal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the road would decrease by up to a third the value of habitat for brown and black bears, mountain goats, and marten. The road would traverse more than three dozen avalanche chutes and cross 46 rivers and streams, including important habitat for various species of fish.

Costs Keep Climbing While State Appeals Decision
The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) 2009 estimate for the cost of the road is over $500 million, more than one and one-half times the state's estimate from just three years ago.  In February 2009, a federal judge put the project on hold, ruling that the FHWA and the state should have considered improving transportation to Juneau by doing what the public asked for: fixing ferry service through better use of the existing boats and ferry terminals. Rather than following that order, the State of Alaska has appealed the district court's decision although the federal agencies have declined to pursue an appeal.

Earthjustice represents the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation, Skagway Marine Access Commission, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Alaska Public Interest Research Group in the litigation.