History on our side

The DOT announcement last month that it was abandoning its preferred alternative – a road from here to Juneau – to avoid cutting through the Skagway-White Pass National Historic Landmark, surprised nearly everyone on both sides of the Juneau Access road versus ferries issue.

Concerns about impacts to the National Historic Landmark took a back seat to the more vocal 4(f) discussions that centered around the city’s Dewey Lakes Recreation Area. The Federal Highways Administration had no problem siding with the state in building the road over a beloved city trails system, but it eventually backed away from a written tussle with the National Park Service over cutting through a National Historic Landmark in plain view of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Instead, the state will now try to build a road 48 miles north from Juneau to Katzehin, with regular shuttle ferries to Haines and Skagway. This alternative was hardly considered in the early rounds of the Juneau Access EIS process because it lacked the “purpose and need” of a hard link road to connect the capital to the Alaska Highway. But a road from Juneau to Katzehin was always considered a compromise alternative that would do the least harm to the economies of Haines and Skagway, port towns that enjoy their “end-of-the road” status. It even gained support of some regional politicians like State Rep. Bill Thomas.

Still, it remains to be seen if this new alternative meets the desires of the traveling public when compared to the existing system of fast and mainline ferries. If the ferry system can succeed in reducing rates, delivering reliable service, and bringing back ridership, this revised road plan may not be the most “reasonable and prudent” alternative in the federal funding picture. Not to mention the avalanche concerns and effects on Berners Bay that still exist with a shortened road up the east side of Lynn Canal.

History has always been on Skagway’s side, and this recent decision not only preserves our “Gateway to the Klondike” heritage, it may well protect our strategic port forever. – WJB