FROZEN VICTORS

Denise McHale is greeted by her husband Greg and a TV crew after finishing the grueling uphill bike ride on Feb. 4. Greg took first place, and Denise third, early in their Fulda victory run. See Fulda Finale in features below. Jeff Brady

DOT introduces revised Skagway approach for road alternative
Plan moves road away from Lower Dewey Lake, includes four trail crossings

By JEFF BRADY
Juneau Access planners from the Department of Transportation unveiled a revised route into Skagway for the road alternative in the updated Environmental Impact Statement during presentations on Jan. 27 at the Skagway School.
The new route avoids passing directly by Lower Dewey Lake, crosses the main trail with a bridge below the reservoir to the knob above Kirmse’s Clock, and then descends gradually to a point where it would enter town via an overpass above the railroad tracks at about 23rd and Main.
The presentations were delayed a week when planners could not fly into town, and were combined with a separate public meeting on the revised State Transportation Improvement Plan.
Juneau Access Project Manager Reuben Yost gave a brief review of how the DOT reached this stage. In presentations last summer, maps showed the road coming along the west side of Lower Dewey Lake, basically over the existing trail, and then following the Icy Lake trail down to a point where the road would descend along the hillside into Skagway. The biggest questions raised during that meeting and another one in the fall was the impact on the Lower Dewey Lake trails and recreation area, Yost said, acknowledging that trail surveys were not included in the original plans.
DOT planners then looked at the 1997 proposal which had the route coming into town along Taiya Inlet via Congress Way. After meeting with White Pass and the city, they concluded it would be “a complicated fix,” Yost said. In addition to original concerns about disturbing the historic ship registers on the rock wall above the railroad dock, the state would have had to buy
the dock, reconstruct it, and reconfigure the railroad tracks. The cost would have been about $35 million, Yost said.
Another option would have been a 7,000-foot tunnel from Sturgill’s Landing to Congress Way, which would have cost $35 million for a one-way tunnel, and $45 million for a two-way tunnel, plus higher maintenance costs, he said. The rock also was not strong enough, according to tunnel consultants, and having the road enter Congress Way was not preferred by the city, he added, because of congestion and the proposed seawall/seawalk development.
The new road approach DOT came up with (click here for pdf of Skagway Route map) would:
• From Taiya Inlet, go up the southeast side of Sturgill’s Creek,
avoiding the picnic area and trail on the other side.
• Cross over, before reaching Lower Lake, to the ridge way above the railroad dock, and follow that ridge about 500 feet above the lake.
• Bridge the main trail to the lakes at a 300-foot span that crosses a ravine below the reservoir over to the ridge above the Kirmse Clock, and follow that ridge to the AP&T access road, where it would start to go down. The road would be within sight of downtown at Fifth or Sixth Avenue.
• The road cut would descend to 23rd Ave. where it would go over the railroad tracks via an overpass, meeting the roadway at about 23rd and Main. DOT is working with the city on a traffic plan for that area to keep cars coming into town via State Street, rather than diverting them to Main Street.
DOT has sent a letter to the city asking for input on recreation uses on the trails, changes that would occur, and possible mitigation alternatives.
A resolution introduced Feb. 10 began to address that (see sidebar).
“We’re not asking the city to endorse this alternative,” Yost said. “We’re asking that if this alternative were to be selected, what would be the city’s concerns about these features.”
Yost fielded several questions, but asked participants to contact the city directly for input on the new route proposal, as the Juneau Access public comment period does not begin again until release of this summer’s draft. The city’s and other agency input will be taken in preparation for that draft.
Questions were raised about noise issues and pollution, but Yost said background noise in Skagway in summer would be higher than road noise from cars entering Skagway at 40 mph. Still, he was asked to complete noise surveys in the trail corridors. As for pollution, Yost said gas-powered cars on the road would produce less than what currently is coming from diesel-using cruise ships and ferries, and overall pollution would go down
with the reduction of ferries.
Average daily traffic would be 235 cars in winter, and 900 in summer, for a year-round average of about 500 per day. The most in any one week would be about 3,000 during the peak July-August months. These figures came from averaging traffic on the Klondike and Haines highways, Juneau’s Egan Drive, and others.
Yost also addressed questions about avalanche control and road costs.
A new avalanche mitigation report by the Juneau Avalanche Center will be available on the Juneau Access web site soon, he said. The Juneau Access plan will propose a $1.5 million maintenance budget, with half, $750,000, going just to avalanche control. This estimate includes 15-16 closures of up to a couple days each in an average year . If closed longer, then the Haines-Skagway shuttle ferry would take traffic to Juneau.
No sheds are being planned at this time, he said, although using them should produces less road closures. Planners have a cost on placing snow sheds in the three worst areas, but it did not reduce the avalanche hazard index of below 30.
“There’s a tradeoff between how much money you want to spend versus how much of a closure do you think is tolerable,” he said.
None are used on the Seward Highway, where the only death from an avalanche occurred to a worker clearing snow during a closure. He has not found any in the U.S. but knows of some in Norway used in high traffic areas to keep the road open.
The preferred mitigation would involve some road realignments to higher or lower ground depending on the chute, and use of helicopter-dropped bombs, and staged howitzers on the opposite side of Lynn Canal (none would be proposed for Taiya Inlet on up to Skagway) for bringing down avalanches.
Some residents were concerned about effects on wildlife, and Yost said those will be addressed in the draft this summer, as well as the road alternative’s effect on several species, including sea lions and bald eagles. About 100 nests are along the road route. Where the road can’t keep a 300-foot distance, the state would be required to work when the nest is unoccupied or require additional monitoring, he said.
When queried about the road’s construction cost, Yost said the estimate of $2 million to $4 million per mile, depending on the terrain, was comparable to Norway’s highways. Total estimated cost of just the road from Juneau to Skagway is now at $265 million. That compares with $232 million in 1997, which included the cost of a ferry terminal at Katzehin and shuttle ferry to Haines. The state in the STIP is looking at having the Aurora serve as a Haines-Skagway shuttle ferry starting in 2005, and that likely will be incorporated into the Juneau Access plans, Yost said this week.
When asked at the meeting why so much attention was being focused on the road alternative, Yost said that it is the alternative that generates the most questions. But DOT is required in the EIS process to develop reports on the same level for all alternatives, he added, and has not ignored the fact that the city remains on record against the road alternative.
With the MV Fairweather fast vehicle ferry undergoing sea trials and being prepared for delivery to the state next month, the state will have an opportunity to see real costs related to the fast ferry marine alternatives this summer.
But Yost said this week that data will not be ready for the report’s release in June. They have been able to include some operational information that the marine architect supplied to the contractor, and the Fairweather is plotting out well against other models around the world. The other unknown is labor costs, but the state and union recently agreed to negotiate a separate contract for the fast vehicle ferries.
“Our marine consultant is reviewing everything before we publish,” Yost added. “If in the time between supplemental draft and final that some costs are out of whack with what we have, then we can update it.”
The ultimate decision on a preferred alternative rests with the governor. And then the Federal Highway Administration must take the final EIS and concur with its conclusion to make the selected project eligible for funding.
The Murkowski Administration, which is on record in support of the road alternative, has put in a budget request before Congress for the first of three yearly construction phases, should the road alternative move forward.
Jan Caulfield, a consultant working on the Southeast report, said Juneau Access was being built into the plan based on information to date. That’s why it anticipates a road in place by 2008 (earliest estimate for opening if funding approved) and no ferry service between Juneau and Skagway after that date. If the state went with a marine alternative, then the STIP would
be changed.
Throughout the rest of the region, as a way to reduce ferry operation costs, mainline vessels would run only between Juneau and Bellingham, with feeder vessels serving communities from Prince Rupert north. Other major federal projects such as the Bradfield Canal road from Wrangell to British Columbia would be proposed after 2010.

Special thanks to Raymie Eatough who took video of the evening presentations which allowed us to cover this meeting, as it had been rescheduled to a day when we were out of town.

Retaining recreational integrity

City resolution would require trails mitigation

By ANDREW CREMATA

A hike up the Dewey Peaks to our East brings thoughts of dropping a line in the quiet waters of the lake to catch a beautiful brook trout, or meandering through the forest to discover amanitas bulging from the lichen-covered ground. Squirrels curse at one another at play while the guttural grouse’s call echoes through the trees. It is a place for escape that requires neither a full tank of gas nor a pack full of necessities.
For those who enjoy this pristine environment it is feared that a road from Juneau will replace the mushrooms with beer bottles and soda cans thrown from car windows, the sweet smell of cottonwoods in bloom will be overpowered by carbon dioxide fumes, and the peaceful solitude will be overpowered by the white noise of rubber dragging on concrete and the steady drone of automobile engines.
If the road from Juneau is built there will be considerable impact to the Dewey Lakes Trail System. This area is arguably the most important recreational area for residents of Skagway as it includes Lower and Upper Dewey Lakes Trails, Devil’s Punchbowl, Icy Lake, Reid Falls and Sturgill’s Landing. It is for this reason that the City is trying to pass resolution 04-04R, which outlines mitigation requirements if the road is built.
The resolution demands that the State of Alaska make improvements to the trail from Icy Lake to Upper Reid Falls, a trail connecting Upper Reid Falls to the Gold Rush Cemetery, any overpass or underpass necessary for trail users to cross the highway, a loop trail from the Devil’s Punchbowl to Lower Dewey Lake, improvement along the east shore of Lower Dewey Lake and a recreational trail from the proposed road alignment up Paradise Valley.
At the Feb. 10 City Council meeting, citizens spoke out in support of this resolution. Barb Kalen pointed out that “possible rock and water damage” should be included in the resolution, and adding more trails “would be nice.”
Dimitra Lavrakas also stressed, “We need to make sure we have the power to hold them (The State) accountable.”
Mayor Tim Bourcy was not present at the meeting, so the resolution was tabled until his return. The Feb. 19 meeting will provide another forum for all who have an opinion on this topic to speak out before the resolution is adopted.
Bourcy points out that the resolution in no way changes the position taken by the City in Resolution 03-08R in support of enhanced Alaska Marine Highway service as Skagway’s preferred alternative for Juneau Access in opposition to the construction of a road.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

FULDA CHOW LINE - Jeanne Tyson of the Haven Cafe staff watches the line of international athletes and media line up for some great food at the WP&YR Depot on the evening of Feb. 3. The Europeans reportedly raved about the meat loaf. JB

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