The state Department of Transportation is moving forward with its environmental review of the Juneau Access Project. The governor’s state budget director wrote a memo last week giving the department the go-ahead to finish the document that lays out the state’s case for where the road should or shouldn’t be built.
Last December, the governor ordered DOT to stop all discretionary spending, not incur new expenses or change existing contracts. Now, the administration is allowing DOT to spend up to $900,000 of general fund money and associated federal funds to finish the supplemental environmental impact statement.
DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says part of completing the environmental review is responding to public comment.
“Last fall we held a public comment period and we received about 44,000 comments. Of those comments, about 2,400 of those are unique in a way that were going to require some additional work,”
DOT has laid out 8 alternatives for improving access to Juneau. Its preferred alternative involves extending Juneau’s highway system about 50 miles north to a new ferry terminal on Lynn Canal. From there, shuttle ships would complete the link to Haines and Skagway.
The other alternatives include another road option, ferry options or no action. After completing the environmental review, the state will submit its final preferred alternative to the Federal Highway Administration; Woodrow expects it to support the state’s choice.
In the memo, budget director Pat Pitney wrote that reaching that milestone ensures the state won’t have to repay nearly $27 million in federal investments. Around the New Year, then-DOT Commissioner Pat Kemp had raised the issue and was asked to resign.
Pitney also wrote the fed’s decision is expected in January. Woodrow says it could take longer.
“We did have to shut down some of the progress on moving forward with the EIS, so therefore, right now is what we call ramping up stage, getting the contractors back on, deciding what the next logical steps are in moving forward with the EIS,” Woodrow says. “We’re definitely shooting for that January 2016, but it’s too early to tell if that’s a deadline that we can meet with the work that needs to be done.”
So far, Woodrow says about $41 million has been spent studying the Juneau Access Project.