SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Mr. Pickrell’s Miserable Mile



August 13, 2013
Tuesday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
Work has finally started on the “improvements” to North Tongass between the Ward Cove Bridge and Sunset Drive.

jpg Mr. Pickrell's Miserable Mile

By Mike Keefe, Cagle Cartoons
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

It’s probably about time. Locals look at those pictures of Florida sinkholes and just sigh. They know what it’s like to drive over one. Nothing like feeling the earth collapse beneath you twice a day, heading to "Town" and back.

Really, that part of North Tongass has been a “sinkhole” for much of the past two or three decades. Once upon a time, it was pummeled by big trucks coming and going from the Pulp Mill. Now, it is hammered by tour buses crunching back and forth from Totem Bight.

And yet, the State remains far more concerned that we remove our snow tires promptly, otherwise they “damage the roadbed.” Really?

MPMM - so named because of the efforts of long-time Refuge Cove Estates (the Beverly Hills to Wackerville's West Hollywood) resident Bob Pickrell to draw attention to it - has remained a vehicular goat path as the State Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has turned its attention to other more important issues facing the department.

True, ADOTPF has spent many millions of dollars fixing up other eyesores along State Highway Number (unlucky) 7 over the past 20 or 30 years. We now have pristine roadway all the way from Settlers Cove to Beaver Falls, except for "Mr. Pickrell’s Miserable Mile."

What’s that you say? It’s kinda bumpy near Saxman? And you can still find the ditch easier than the road between Mountain Point and Herring Cove?

Well, in ADOT’s defense much of its time has been caught up in worthwhile endeavors such as the endless effort to “study” the Gravina Access project into oblivion.

They have a whole department up in Juneau that’s sole focus is to paper over Tongass Narrows with enough impact statements; draft, supplemental or otherwise, so that we will eventually be able to walk across the channel.

But as usual I digress.

Just as Gravina Access has been doing since I was in high school.

Anyway, back to Mr. Pickrell’s wretched roadway.

They are digging up hillsides and beginning to straighten out a bit of the curve next to Wackerville (that sunny hamlet of market, PO, salon and coffee company). Which, I guess, means that other activity will soon occur.

What that activity is not entirely clear. ADOT’s plans remain flexible. They are clearly waiting to see how long we will continue to pay attention to this sudden splurge of activity. The minute we turn away they will shift all the earthmovers north to work on Juneau Access or the SECOND BRIDGE to Douglas.

But even though there appears to be light at the end of the sinkhole, Wackerville could still face trouble.

Once upon a time, ADOT announced that it would turn the “oxbow” of the former roadway into a frontage road that continued to connect Wackerville to the highway.

Then it announced that it wouldn’t connect Wackerville, leaving it do die on the vine.

Then it announced that it would connect Wackerville to the highway after all.

Now it is saying it won’t connect Wackerville unless some else pays for the connection.

Because despite a budget that is approaching $200 Trillion (hey it’s big state and there are a lot of projects in Juneau and the Rail Belt), ADOT is worried that it really doesn’t have enough money to do the connection itself and it most certainly doesn’t have the budget to plow the 300 feet of frontage road during Ketchikan’s brutal winters, which usually require intense plowing for a week or so every six months.

jpg Bridge to Nowhere Claim

Bridge to Nowhere Claim
By Mike Keefe, Cagle Cartoons
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

With that decisiveness, you can see why it has taken nearly six years for ADOT to not quite yet come up with a new “preferred alternative” for Gravina Access. A process that then Governor Palin swore would be completed in less than a year.

Nota Bene: She kept the money.

I feel like I have to repeat that because I read again this week on a prominent national website (Fox News...maybe) that she “stood up to the Porkbarrellers by returning the money for the Bridge to Nowhere.” Yep, she returned it to Bethel, Palmer and Wasilla for the most part.

But, of course, I digress again.

Meanwhile, back to MPMM. Are you feeling a little of Mr. Pickrell’s frustration with interminable delays yet?

You can tell when ADOT is finally serious about a road project because they finally start tearing up the adjacent hillside. This usually happens sometime around 15 years after planning for said project begins and it becomes obvious to even the trolls on Glacier Avenue (ADOT headquarters) that someone is actually expecting some sort of work on at least one project during a fiscal year.

Neighbors notice the work because they hear something you just never hear around these parts anymore.

“Say, honey, what is that weird buzzing over yonder?”

“I don’t know, sounds like a skeeter got inside my hearing aid again.”

“No, I can hear it too. What is that? I know I have heard that before.”

“Yeah, what is it? Dang, that is soooo familiar.”

“It’s a, it’s a, it’s a CHAINSAW dag nab it!!! Someone is actually cutting down a tree!”

That usually then leads to enhanced traffic along the construction zone because all the look-i-loos in town want to head out to actually see what fresh “stump” looks like.

And that is then followed by a large entourage of national media that arrive to videotape the stumps as “evidence” that once again the trees of the Tongass are being slaughtered wholesale and will continue to be clear cut until more people give more money to more environmental organizations (“Only you can save a tree!”).

Wow, I just can’t stay on track, can I?

I should work for ADOT.

Anyhow, good luck to the residents of Mister Pickrell's Miserable Mile and to any others who must transit it over the next construction "season" or so.

I suspect they will need it.  

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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Dave Kiffer ©2013

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