Those planning a proposed second crossing from Juneau to Douglas Island attempted to gauge residents’ varying opinions on the project that has been long in the making and has been studied since the early 1980s.
In an open forum meeting hosted by the City and Borough of Juneau Public Works and Facilities Committee Thursday evening, more than a dozen residents from both Juneau and Douglas gave public comments regarding the eight preliminary alternatives outlined as potential crossing options in the Planning and Environmental Linkages study currently underway.
The options range from developing a tunnel next to the runways at Juneau International Airport to a bridge near Fritz Cove to a crossing near Salmon Creek.
According to a recent survey that received more than 1,000 responses from residents, around two-thirds of the respondents were in favor of a crossing at some location. The alternatives with the most support were a crossing in the Sunny Point Area followed by the North Airport and Vanderbilt Hill road alternatives. The least-supported locations were the downtown, Eagle Creek and Salmon Creek alternatives.
According to Marie Heidemann, the project’s manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the PEL study is expected to be completed sometime this fall, and an open house will be held for the public to provide feedback on the final recommendations.
Heidemann said the actual design and construction — if decided to move forward — is still around six years out and largely depends on if and when funding becomes available.
“All of this hinges on having funding,” Heidemann said at the meeting.
Many of the residents who gave testimony expressed their concerns regarding the environmental impacts of the project, specifically about the alternatives that would cross through the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.
Krista Garrett spoke on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Land Trust, where she is the conservation director. She said the organization believes the refuge is not a suitable location for any second-crossing alternatives, citing negative environmental impacts and habitat disruption.
She urged the project committee to focus on alternatives that ensure the protection of the refuge and the trust’s private conservation lands adjacent to it.
“It is an important bird area, critical habitat for birds, salmon and other species, a favorite recreation destination and place of significance for the tribes of Southeast Alaska,” she said. “There is no compelling rationale to fragment and harm these community resources.”
Garrett said suitable alternatives are the Salmon Creek, Eagle Creek and downtown crossing, if designed carefully, and said the Mendenhall Peninsula alternative may also be a contender.
Philip Pallenberg agreed and said routes such as Salmon Creek would be more attainable and realistic and argued that crossing the refuge would likely have more environmental and legal challenges than the other alternatives.
Other residents spoke more about the economic and safety benefits that they think could come from the project, regardless of the chosen alternative. Laura McDonnell spoke as both an individual and from her position as president-elect for the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
She said the creation of a second crossing would align with the chamber’s community goals to increase economic development, housing opportunities and safety.
“It’s a hard decision, it impacts a lot of our community, but there is no way to do this without impacting some people,” she said. “For the good of the community we’ve got to move forward while we’ve got momentum.”
Roger Calloway spoke as an individual and shared a similar viewpoint, noting that he felt the project is at a unique point in time where there are various avenues to gain funding which hasn’t always been the case before.
“I’d like to speak in favor of the project, I think it’s needed for access and to create better access for our community,” he said. “Our existing infrastructure has aged and we need it for the security and safety of creating additional access in case an emergency takes place.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.