JUNEAU — Limited options for ferry scheduling left some Alaska lawmakers and staffers without their cars for the first days of the legislative session.
The schedule resulted in cross-Gulf ferries coming to Juneau either 11 days before the start of session, or three days after session started. The issue reflected the difficulty that many lawmakers face each year in getting to Juneau, a community accessible only by air or water.
Frustrations came to the forefront during a Legislative Council meeting this week. House Speaker Mike Chenault, who spoke to the issue, said Friday that it was just a matter of bad timing. Lawmakers generally prefer to have the ferry come a week before session.
“We need to do better at making sure that the ferry sails at a convenient time to get the legislators, not only their cars but a number of legislators and staff ride the ferry down,” he said. “And when we leave, I expect, you know, the ferry should be scheduled for a few days after the session’s over so people can get their household goods and things packed up and put in their vehicles to be shipped back.”
House and Senate leadership suggested dates for the ferries to come to Juneau. But state transportation department spokeswoman Brenda Hewitt said the ferries do not run just for legislators — a point Chenault acknowledged — but she said the system tries to accommodate lawmakers within the existing schedule.
One ferry, the Tustumena, is out for scheduled maintenance, and the ferry that was used, the Kennicott, not only fills in for the Tustumena but also does cross-Gulf runs every other week, said Michael Neussl, deputy commissioner of marine operations for the transportation department.
Neussl said the system tries for schedules that have the same ferries in the same ports at the same time of day. This provides a measure of predictability in communities that use the system.
Hewitt said efforts were made to provide runs as close as possible to the session “without messing up everyone else along the route.”
Hewitt said 50 vehicles were on the ferry that left Whittier Jan. 5 for Juneau and 21 were on the ferry that left Thursday. That boat was due Friday at Auke Bay, near Juneau.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said that he didn’t have his car yet by Friday morning. He laughed when asked if that was a pain: “I don’t have a car, to the extent that’s inconvenient. I have a lot of things in my car, clothes and things. I’m getting by.”
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said he and his wife put one of their two cars on the early ferry, and an aide parked it in her driveway until the Lynns flew to Juneau last weekend.
“It’s an inconvenient schedule but I guess we knew the risk, the aggravation getting to Juneau with the ferry,” he said. However, “of all the aggravations in my life, this is pretty far down the list. We have more important things to deal with this session, I think. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a mole hill.”