A planning process underway at the state presents some pretty stark options for the future of transportation in Southeast Alaska. Under one of the prominent alternatives being explored, a traveler from Haines to Ketchikan would take the following route: ferry from Haines to a new terminal in Katzehin, drive the new Lynn Canal Highway to Auke Bay, ferry to Kake, drive a new road to Petersburg and then on to the southern end of Mitkof Island, ferry to Wrangell then to Coffman Cove, drive to Hollis and likely spend the night on Prince of Wales, and finally ferry to Ketchikan. Sound like fun?
Fortunately, this isn’t the only alternative being studied. Four other alternatives explore ways of maintaining and/or improving the region’s ferry infrastructure to better manage schedules, address capacity issues, and reduce annual maintenance and operation costs. The construction of a new Alaska-class ferry, funding for which has already been secured, will be a big part of making this system more functional and financially stable.
The stark choices presented by the state’s proposed transportation plan are motivated by an anticipated decline in state and federal transportation dollars. It makes sense to find ways to tighten our belt during these times — and the time is coming to retire some of our aging ferries and create a sustainable, modern ferry system. During such a transition, it’s important to keep in mind the important role ferries have in our broader economy, providing a cost-effective way to move goods to rural communities; helping sustain Southeast Alaska’s billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry; and contributing to the unique quality of life that keeps so many talented friends, neighbors, business owners and employees living in our region.
I encourage you to participate in the state’s planning process, which is titled “Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan Update.” The Department of Transportation & Public Facilities is accepting public comments through Nov. 4. DOT’s comment page is available at 1.usa.gov/ojKnl2.
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council