Juneau Access Improvements
AK DOT&PF Project No. 71100
Federal Project No. STP-000S(131)
SEIS Alternative Descriptions (August 2013) and FHWA Approval Process
for the SEIS
Due to recent changes in the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) Alaska Class Ferry service plan, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) have prepared updated descriptions of the alternatives being evaluated in the Juneau Access Improvements (JAI) Project, Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). These updated alternative descriptions take into account the new Day Boat ACF characteristics and operations.
Also, FHWA is currently operating under the provisions of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (Map-21; see MAP-21 Overview), which includes provisions for the timely delivery of transportation projects. FHWA intends to name a preferred alternative in the JAI Project Draft SEIS and to issue a single, combined Final SEIS and Record of Decision (ROD).
In addition to this webpage update, postcard mailers and email notifications are being sent to those individuals who requested to be put on the JAI project mailing list, and individual letters/memorandums are being sent to regulatory agencies to advise them of the availability of this updated project information.
Project Purpose and Need
Juneau, Alaska’s capital city with a population of over 31,000 residents is the largest community on the North American continent not connected to the continental highway system. The only public surface transportation available is the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), a state-owned ferry system that provides transportation to many of Alaska’s southeast coastal communities. The purpose of and need for the Juneau Access Improvements Project is to provide improved transportation to and from Juneau within the Lynn Canal corridor that will reduce travel times, state, and user costs while providing capacity to meet demand and improved opportunity to travel.
On September 14, 2011 the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) announced that it will begin the process with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to complete a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Juneau Access Improvements project. The SEIS will fully evaluate a stand-alone alternative that improves service in Lynn Canal using existing AMHS assets (see Press Release). The supplemental EIS will also update the Final EIS reasonable alternatives and will address changes in applicable laws, regulations, and approvals. DOT&PF anticipates the SEIS process will take approximately two and a half years, with a Draft SEIS released in early 2014, and a Final
SEIS / Record of Decision (ROD) in mid-2014. DOT&PF has contracted with the firm HDR Alaska, Inc. to prepare the SEIS and many of the required supporting documents.
The first step in development of the SEIS was a focused scoping effort to present the new alternative descriptions and seek comments on the studies, analyses, and updates that will be required. A newsletter describing the process was distributed to all postal addresses in the project area as well as inserted into local newspapers. Affected agencies, including past federal Cooperating Agencies and state permitting agencies, were consulted during the scoping period.
A Scoping Summary Report has been prepared explaining the 2012 SEIS scoping process and summarizing the scoping comments received. Appendices to the report provide copies of scoping materials, public scoping comments, agency comments, and comment analysis spreadsheets.
The JAI Project SEIS is currently in the preliminary Draft development stage. The FHWA will sign the Draft SEIS and circulate the document for public availability for a period of 45 days. The public review and comment period will include public hearings in Juneau, Haines, and Skagway.
On April 3, 2006 the FHWA issued a ROD for the Juneau Access Improvements Project. The ROD selected Alternative 2B, the East Lynn Canal Highway to Katzehin with Shuttles to Haines and Skagway, as described in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project released on January 18, 2006.
On August 16, 2006 the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and five additional plaintiffs filed a complaint in US District Court against FHWA and the US Forest Service (USFS). The complaint alleges the USFS failed to comply with the National Forest Management Act and FHWA failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Bald Eagle Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The District Court issued a decision on February 13, 2009, ruling the FEIS was not valid because it did not include an alternative that would improve transportation in Lynn Canal with existing assets. The District Court did not rule on the other counts.
The State of Alaska filed an appeal of the District Court decision with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The State presented the argument that FHWA did comply with NEPA by evaluating a No Action Alternative that included projected improvements in Lynn Canal and that variations of this alternative are not required. On May 4, 2011 a three judge Ninth Circuit panel, by a two-to-one margin, upheld the District Court decision.
On June 18, 2008 the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit, POA-2006-597-2, to the DOT&PF authorizing the fill and dredge in waters of the US necessary to construct the East Lynn Canal Highway to Katzehin. The permit is enjoined by the 2009 District Court decision. In June 2013, the permit expired and DOT&PF intends to submit a revised permit application to the Corps concurrent with the JAI Draft SEIS.