Letter: Juneau Access Initiative

Honorable Gov. Bill Walker:

It seems to me presumptions surrounding this project are making your job harder. For example, arguments for The Road in the press often cannot be found in the Project’s Purpose and Need statement; there is a presumption that the project’s traffic study is unassailable when it is, in fact, defective; the presumption that what hurts the Alaska Marine Highway System (budget cuts) helps The Road; the presumption that federal cost share will be lost if The Road is not built; the presumption that this project is measured in vehicles, not people (travelers).

While I wholeheartedly agree that issues other than those in the Project Purpose and Need statement should have been made a part of the project and critically and thoroughly examined, the distinction between what is and is not in the Project’s Purpose and Need statement seems of no matter to many. Transporting fish, mining, tourism, jobs, keeping Juneau the capital, etc. are not found in the Project’s Purpose and Need statement. Why the statement is narrowly defined around discretionary travel by Juneau residents is unknown to me. To answer that question, I think one would have to ask the authors of the statement — a statement that has not changed in at least 10 years. However, any change in the statement at this late date risks sending the project back to “Go.”

When talking about the cost of The Road, I think it helpful to keep in mind that the project’s cost estimate (see 2014 Update to Appendix D, Technical Alignment Report, DSEIS) is based on unit costs for construction year 2012 with only a 5 percent contingency for all but the northern 28-mile segment of The Road. Engineering News Record (ENR) Construction Cost Index between November 2012 and March 2016 increased 9 percent. Add to that escalation to the middle of construction and cost overruns are guaranteed.

The permit history of the Juneau Access Initiative clearly documents that forecast traffic is the only issue that mattered when selecting a preferred alternate in the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and accompanying Record of Decision (ROD). Today’s 2014 DSEIS is no different; it is just as dependent on its traffic study. Which is a problem. After researching the state’s project documentation (http://dot.alaska.gov/sereg/projects/juneau_access/index.shtml) and being surprised that The Road was entirely dependent on the traffic study, I tasked myself with trying to validate the traffic study. Luckily, the state already had two completely independent traffic studies, the state said it simply liked one firm more than the other. I compared the studies. The result is at my website www.lavoie1943.com, or www.juneauaccesstraffic.com or simply Google “Juneau Access Initiative.” I concluded, “Without doubt, the 2014 study lacks credibility; it is fundamentally flawed. Forecast total latent demand for Lynn Canal and forecast demand for Alternative 2B (The Road), in particular, are more likely than not grossly overestimated.” Bottom line, the state’s traffic study is superficially attractive but seriously wrong. So much in the DSEIS depends on the traffic study that it is realistic to say “whither goes the traffic study so should go the project”.

An argument heard more often of late is budget cuts to AMHS make The Road more necessary. What that really says is what hurts AMHS helps The Road. That is an exploitive philosophy that says more about the speaker than the project. It is on par with — should someone say it — what hurts The Road helps AMHS. Neither is a worthy argument.

May I suggest the state consider conducting an education outreach program to increase public awareness of the role federal funding plays in Alaska’s statewide transportation program. A brochure, maybe a website … something. Federal gas tax receipts are apportioned to the states abiding by an allocation/contribution ratio scheme that assures each state a fair share of the Highway Trust Fund and Alaska does quite well in this regard receiving far more than it contributes to the Trust Fund, which goes towards state capital outlays (new construction), maintenance, grants to local communities, bonds and interest, administration and research and enforcement and safety. Opinion and op-ed commentaries spread fear of losing federal funds; they also allege funding The Road means delaying other Alaska projects. The state has these answers and a role to play here.


Roland Lavoie,

Retired civil engineer dba RediCheck Northwest LLC

Hood River, Oregon