Sitka, Petersburg, Kake and Ketchikan will see existing roads extended and new ones built under the Legislature’s capital budget. Most would boost timber harvests or mining.
There’s been talk for years about extending Southeast Alaska’s road system. Projects range from the Skagway-Juneau highway, to a road-tunnel combo crossing Baranof Island, to the Bradfield Canal route to Canada. But little has been built.
This year’s capital budget aims to get the bulldozers moving.
“The governor has a roads-to-resources program, mainly focused on up north for the big money. And looking around Southeast, we have similar interests,” says Sitka Senator Bert Stedman, who assembled the budget as co-chairman of his chamber’s Finance Committee.
He wants to take a different approach, using state general funds rather than money from Washington, D.C.
“So rather than concentrate on this federal process, which is two-lane paved blacktop roads that never get built, I want to concentrate on 18-foot-wide (gravel) roads with turnouts. Just transportation corridors that maybe 30 to 40 years from now, they may be upgraded,” he says.
The biggest road on the list, at about 50 miles, would connect the village of Kake to the city of Petersburg. It’s tagged for $40 million, and could be built along with a power line. A ferry crossing Wrangell Narrows would also be needed.
Stedman says it would connect logging roads and access some timber stands along the way.
Two shorter routes are on Gravina Island, the location of Ketchikan’s Airport. One, slated for $5 million, would connect Bostwick to Valenar Bay. The other, at $2.5 million, would go to the former Seley Sawmill site.
Stedman says it could be redeveloped to support the Niblack Mine, which is being developed on Prince of Wales Island.
“We’ve got the potential of having a mine brought it. And it would be nice to have facilities available for the processing of some of their materials … from the mine. And we need to get some road access and some improvements,” he says.
The capital budget also includes $19 million toward Shelter Cove Road. The approximately 20-mile route would extend Ketchikan’s road system east, from Harriet Hunt Lake to the cove. It would also open up access to a other roads that are now unconnected.
It would include existing logging roads, and Stedman says the corridor has some timber potential.
Another project in the budget would extend the north end of Sitka’s road system, from near the community’ ferry terminal to Katlian Bay. The approximately 5-mile route, priced at $14 million, is part of a legislative bonds package that could go before voters later this year.
Stedman says it would connect the road system to property owned by the Shee Atika and Sealaska Native corporations, which could extract gravel or rock, or harvest timber.
“So if we could get access to Katlian Bay, then they could create some employment and do some restoration in that valley. It was logged in the ‘60s or so, the late‘50s. And there would be a lot of recreation opportunities and things like that also,” he says.
Another roads-to-resources project would spend $2.5 million improving the Klondike Highway, which runs from Skagway north. It’s used to haul ore from Yukon mines.
The budget also includes numerous local road and highway repair or upgrade projects.
Stedman says budget-writers consulted with state transportation officials and the U.S. Forest Service before deciding on road-to-resource projects