The oversight board for Alaska’s ferry system is recommending the state add crew quarters on another ship originally built as a day boat. The board also heard this month that the state is still pursuing a new terminal in Lynn Canal to shorten the ferry run between Juneau, Haines and Skagway.
The Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board makes recommendations on the direction of the state run ferry system. It was created last year and has been meeting every two weeks since February. In early July the board approved a resolution that recommends adding crew quarters along with other upgrades to the Tazlina. It was built at the Ketchikan shipyard, completed in 2018 and is one of two new Alaska Class Ferries. The resolution calls for that project to be included in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, the state’s regularly-updated plan of work for roads, ferries and airports.
Board vice chair Wanetta Ayers of Anchorage said she’s been a skeptic of the addition but now thinks it makes sense for flexibility.
“From a long range stand point I feel that we have to pursue standardization of the Alaska Class Vessels in order to maximize versatility, community service, inter-operability of the vessels,” Ayers said.
The state designed the new ships as dayboats, without overnight space and operated by a smaller crew, as a cost saving measure. They were meant for use in Lynn Canal along with a proposed road extension that never happened. The lack of cabins limits the routes those can sail. The Tazlina did some service in 2019 and 2020. But her sister ship the Hubbard has not been used.
The state is already paying around 15 million dollars to add crew quarters on the Hubbard. The Hubbard is expected to be done with that work and starting service November 8. On the Tazlina it’s estimated that addition will cost $18 million
During the summer, the marine highway wants to run the Tazlina in Lynn Canal through a new ferry terminal at Cascade Point. That’s 27 miles north of the ferry terminal at Auke Bay near Juneau . The state is in discussions with Goldbelt, Juneau’s urban Native corporation, about developing a terminal on Goldbelt’s land there. It was one recommendation by a Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group in 2020.
Department of Transportation commissioner Ryan Anderson told the board that the project has been on pause since April of 2021. But the D-O-T wants to continue working on it.
“Basically you know when we look at these things there’s some public benefits to Cascade Point, one of them being cost savings,” Anderson said. “There would be a reduction in fares for the public to do this, about a 25 percent is a very round number but what people could expect. There’d also be a time savings. Granted you have to drive further. But even with the drive, I think we came up with it’s about an hour and a half one way of time savings for the public.”
Ferry managers say the new terminal would cut 30 miles off Lynn Canal sailings and allow the ship to operate within a 12-hour timeframe. Goldbelt would operate a bus for walk-on passengers getting on or off the ferry at Cascade Point.
The operations board heard pushback on the proposal, which would require driving between ferry terminals.
Ferry Columbia captain Gabriel Baylous thought it is the wrong direction for the system.
“I walk on and sometimes I’ll have a double bob stroller for my kids, Costco groceries, a dog in a kennel and it’s hard enough getting to Auke Bay and to get on a Goldbelt bus? I think we’re really moving away from where we want to go as a system,” Baylous said. “I think we should be simplifying things, not making them more complicated.”
The board also heard a presentation from Goldbelt president and CEO McHugh Pierre about the corporation’s interest in the project but did not vote on a recommendation on a Cascade Point terminal.