State transportation officials are trying to decide between roads, ferries and airplanes to solve the problem of moving people and goods throughout the transportation-challenged Southeast Alaska region.
A new Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan, which will guide policy decisions in future years, is now trying to solve some of those issues by conducting a user-benefit analysis.
Among the alternatives examined in the draft plan are options that would replace ferry runs with highways, but while public hearings throughout the region found strong opinions on both sides, but little agreement on how transportation officials should decide between the options.
“Ultimately, when you are comparing dissimilar alternatives, you have to come up with some approach, a defined approach, to assign a monetary value to the alternatives,” said Andy Hughes, regional planner for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The department is now trying to solve that problem by hiring a consulting firm to help it compare those alternatives by assigning a “user-benefit” to each, he said.
“All of the modes (of Transportation) have a common denominator, each mode moves passengers or freight a certain distance,” Hughes said. The consultant will be in charge of finding a fair method of doing that, but won’t be told what method to use.
“We point the consultants to a number of accepted practices,” he said.
Among the resources they’ll be expected to use are the latest manual from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and guidance from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
Those plans, however, have some big weaknesses, he said.
“They don’t address ferries, and they don’t address air,” he said, but they can be used as a guide.
It will be up to the consultants to figure out what the cost per mile for those modes are. That’s a fairly standard number, which can easily be compared to standardized automobile or trucking costs.
The less-certain factor is placing a value on frequency and time of travel. That included determining, for example, how much more valuable daily travel opportunity would be than weekly travel, he said.
Hughes said he knows the end result will be controversial, but that’s just part of being a transportation planner.
“The problem these days is the fares are all too high, and there’s not enough frequency of service,” Hughes said.
The results of the draft plan available by the end of summer, with another series of public hearings in the fall before the final plan is completed.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or email@example.com.