Juneau mayor meets with pro-road boosters ahead of 2017 legislative session

A sign at the end of Glacier Highway in October 2016. The Juneau Access Improvements Project extension would begin near here. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

A road to Juneau is all but dead in the water this budget year but Juneau’s mayor and like-minded advocates are determined to keep pushing for the half-billion dollar project.

Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch met with about a dozen road advocates in municipal offices Wednesday morning in what he called a “brainstorming session” to push for better connectivity.

Last month Gov. Bill Walker withdrew his office’s support for the $574 million dollar road extension that would link Juneau to a new ferry terminal farther up the Lynn Canal.

But after the meeting, Mayor Koelsch said it’s critical to keep the project alive.

“First thing’s first, put a meeting together to talk about the transportation needs of Southeast and how we handle the ferry systems and the air and the road,” Koelsch said. “And with the road decision that was, you know, I think the stimulus for having the meeting.”

Outgoing Rep. Cathy Muñoz was also there. She said she remains committed to getting road access to Juneau.

“It was a very productive meeting, a lot of broad support for keeping the project alive despite the governor’s ‘No Build’ decision,” Muñoz said. “So the group is working on ideas to get the message out to the Legislature and to business leaders around the state of the importance of this project.”

A road extension to the capital city has been a perennially divisive issue for Juneau, Haines and Skagway. State transportation officials had for years backed a 50-mile road extension that would link Juneau to a ferry terminal on the Katzehin River.

Wednesday’s meeting was held behind closed doors.

Koelsch noted that as there was no quorum of Juneau Assembly members it was not a public meeting that would need to be advertised to the public and open to the media.

“I’m not too worried about if a group of citizens come to you and say we want to get together, I think that’s perfectly legitimate,” Koelsch said.

The Legislature could theoretically override the governor’s decision to pull funding for the project. But it’s unrealistic for that to happen given the state’s fiscal crisis, and a lack of support from the executive branch effectively kills the project for the next budget year.