Alaska Senate plans millions for Juneau road

Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the speech given by DOT Southcoast Region Director Lance Mearig to the Chamber of Commerce. This article has been updated to reflect the change.

The Alaska Senate voted 15-4 to restore funding for the Juneau Access Project Tuesday as it approved a capital construction budget that sends $21.3 million toward the effort.

It is not yet clear what the move means for the project, which was canceled by Gov. Bill Walker in December 2016.

The money is not new spending; the Senate merely reversed a move it made last year to divert the money from Juneau Access to other transportation projects in Lynn Canal.

The Juneau Access reappropriation is a small but significant part of the $1.43 billion capital budget within Senate Bill 142. The budget is paid with $1.1 billion in federal money unlocked by $330 million in state cash. The budget must be approved by the House and Gov. Bill Walker to become effective.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River and the senator in charge of drafting the capital budget, said the Juneau Access change exists “mostly because of public testimony both last year and this year.”

Juneau Access was one of several major construction projects either paused or canceled by Gov. Bill Walker in response to the state’s fiscal crisis, and MacKinnon said senators believe that was a mistake. Other projects include the Knik Arm Bridge and the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.

“The major projects that were paused are something that at least some members of the Senate believe could have helped Alaska’s economy at this particular point in our history, if we would have advanced those projects,” she said.

MacKinnon said her understanding is that the project is paused and can go forward if the governor allows, but it was not immediately clear whether the governor is prepared to change his mind. A spokesperson for the governor said the governor was busy Tuesday and not prepared to make a statement.

Walker announced in December 2016 that he would not authorize construction of a road north from Juneau to a new ferry terminal north of the Katzehein River.

That road and terminal were designed to shorten ferry travel time between Juneau and the northern Lynn Canal communities of Haines and Skagway, but the idea is not without opponents.

Since the route was selected in 2006, it has been the target of lawsuits, de-funding attempts and public debates about the utility of the road. Opponents have argued that the project, whose cost has been estimated at $574 million, is not worth the effort.

Plans called for the road to be funded principally by the federal government, which would pay more than 90 percent of its cost. At the time of the governor’s announcement, the Legislature had accumulated $47 million in an account intended to pay the state’s share of the project.

In July 2017, with the project apparently canceled, the Legislature approved a capital construction budget that sent $4.4 million of the project’s money to a school in rural northern Alaska. Another $21.3 million was diverted to transportation projects in the Lynn Canal area, while the remaining money stayed in the project’s account.

Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Facilities, said department employees are working on an environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project.

Last week, KINY-AM reported that DOT Southcoast Region Director Lance Mearig, in an address to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said DOT was continuing its work on an environmental impact statement for the project and would be ready to proceed if the governor changed his mind.

On Wednesday, DOT spokeswoman Aurah Landau told the Empire that account of the speech was inaccurate and Mearig told the Chamber that the impact statement “will wrap up the project and provide analysis should needs change and warrant the project in the future.” KINY has since corrected its article.

Under the department’s arrangement with the Federal Highway Administration, it must complete an environmental impact statement or repay millions in federal dollars already spent on the project. Completion is expected in August, and at that time, a final record of decision is expected.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

More in News

The Norwegian Sun in port on Oct. 25, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for t​​he week of May 11

Here’s what to expect this week.

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School culinary arts team prepare their three-course meal during the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore on April 26-28. (Photo by Rebecca Giedosh-Ruge)
TMHS culinary arts team serves a meal of kings at national competition

Five students who won state competition bring Alaskan crab and salmon to “Top Chef”-style event.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A look at some of the bills that failed to pass the Alaska Legislature this year

Parts of a long-term plan to bring state revenue and expenses into line again failed to advance.

Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, stares at a pile stack of budget amendments on Tuesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska lawmakers expand food stamp program with goal of preventing hunger, application backlogs

More Alaskans will be able to access food stamps following lawmakers’ vote… Continue reading

Nathan Jackson (left) and John Hagen accept awards at the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President’s Awards banquet. (Courtesy photo)
Haines artists get belated recognition for iconic Tlingit and Haida logo

Nathan Jackson and John Hagen created the design that has been on tribal materials since the ‘70s.

Dori Thompson pours hooligan into a heating tank on May 2. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)
Hooligan oil cooked at culture camp ‘it’s pure magic’

Two-day process of extracting oil from fish remains the same as thousands of years ago.

Shorebirds forage on July 17, 2019, along the edge of Cook Inlet by the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage. The Alaska Legislature has passed a bill that will enable carbon storage in reservoirs deep below Cook Inlet. The carbon-storage bill include numerous other provisions aimed at improving energy supplies and deliverability in Cook Inlet and elsewhere. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Legislature passes carbon-storage bill with additional energy provisions

The Alaska Legislature has passed a bill that combines carbon storage, new… Continue reading

Most Read