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Project detour: State seeks alternative to McGrath extension

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Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012 10:45 pm | Updated: 4:15 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial

The state Department of Transportation waded into a deep swamp when it proposed to extend McGrath Road to the Old Steese Highway’s intersection with the Johansen Expressway, so its decision to revise its course was a wise one.

The proposed road would have nipped the eastern boundary of the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.

It would have crossed what are likely deep frozen peat bogs susceptible to thawing, a process that would keep the surface in constant need of repair — not unlike other sections of road in the area.

The road would have cut off a few trails that wind through the wooded flats that lie between Creamer’s Field and Farmers Loop.

While no one of these effects would have been an enormous calamity, together they added up to a lot of negatives. Opposition to the proposed project was unanimous at a public hearing earlier this year.

It seemed to most people that alternatives without all these negatives should be explored. The department, to its credit, did just that.

Fortunately, it concluded that it could find other solutions to congestion at the intersection of the Steese Highway and Johansen Expressway. It will look at upgrading existing roads and intersections to do the job.

The odd thing about this review process was that much of it occurred after voters had been asked to approve the money for the project — sort of.

Alaskans who went to the polls Nov. 6 were asked this question: “Shall the State of Alaska issue its general obligation bonds in the principal amount of not more than $453,499,200 for the purpose of paying the cost of state transportation projects?”

People who took the time to read the state’s official election pamphlet would have known that the Legislature, when it put this measure on the ballot, declared $24 million of the total was allocated for the “Old Steese Highway to McGrath Road Reconstruction and Extension.”

That sounds like specific language, but apparently it was just a recommendation.

In this case, that’s all for the best, it appears.

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