Buls Eye

Bruce Buls photo Alaska governor shifts ferry project into neutral

December 20, 2012

I got a call this week from Scott Bowlen, a reporter at the Ketchikan Daily News, who sought feedback on the recently announced change of course for the Alaska-class ferry project. In effect, Gov. Sean Parnell pulled the plug on the design and construction of a new ferry that has been in the works since about 2006.

The 350' concept design was created by Elliott Bay Design Group, Seattle, with a lot of input from an Alaska ferry advisory group that surveyed citizens about what they wanted to see in replacements for the Alaska Marine Highway System’s aging fleet.

Last May, when I discussed the project with John Waterhouse at EBDG, the state has just selected Alaska Ship & Drydock in Ketchikan as the construction manager/general contractor for the final design phase. ASD would have to present a final cost before getting the construction contract, but it was assumed that the Ketchikan yard would build the boat, starting next summer. Waterhouse said the design at that time had addressed most of the key regulatory and operational features and that the boat would be built to SOLAS standards. “The size is well set,” he said.

Not anymore. The governor suddenly said that he wants two smaller boats for the price of one bigger boat. Part of his rationale is that the cost of the original Alaska-class ferry has climbed from $120 million to $167 million, according to Bowlen’s Dec. 5 story in the Ketchikan Daily News. The governor apparently thinks “that at least two smaller ferries could be built for the same $120 million.”

The “old” Alaska-class ferry would have had room for 500 passengers and 70 vehicles. The day boat would have had food service and overnight accommodations for the crew. The smaller replacements would carry just 40 vehicles and have no accommodations.

ASD says it was surprised by the announcement, but it’s ready to do whatever the governor and the state DOT wants, as long as it’s done in the Ketchikan yard. The governor says that’s what he wants, too.

I’m no marine engineer, but I’m doubtful that the state of Alaska can build two smaller boats for $120 million. They would have to be a lot smaller, and that would mean even less room for people and vehicles and a reduced capacity for handling Alaska’s weather, especially in winter.

Over $2 million has already been spent and a lot of people have bought into the concept of the Alaska-class boats. I find it highly questionable to chuck that and start all over again. 

Expand/View Comments -  1 Comments
03/01/2013 01:25:54 Mike Banas says:

So what do we do??? The Tusty is 50 yrs old and it's steel is wasting away....the rest of the fleet is getting older too...


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