Fast ferries are a start

Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2000

While we're pleased the governor has made a decision regarding Juneau Access, we're concerned that the decision to postpone building a road will keep Juneau's status as Alaska's capital in peril.

Gov. Tony Knowles announced Monday that three new high-speed ferries will be a part of overall state transportation initiatives he is promoting.

Funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System has been under attack in recent years, and there is never certainty that money will available to run additional ferries, since even the current fleet is occasionally tied up due to lack of legislative commitment. For whatever reason - call it human nature or call it a lack of information - legislators are more likely to cut ferry funding before they cut road maintenance funds. It doesn't make sense, but that's Southeast Alaska's constant worry.

Nevertheless, three high-speed ferries, one of them being dedicated to the busy Lynn Canal run, and one for the Juneau-Sitka run, is better than nothing. The ferries will open up access to Alaska's capital, cutting the current ferry travel time in half, which by any measure is a substantial improvement. It is also clear that the ferry bid and construction process will begin much sooner than a road-building process, which could be held up in court for years. Juneau will have its bird in hand with ferries coming on line in the next within the next two to five years. Gov. Knowles is right in saying that a road could be eight to 10 years off - and that is assuming no lawsuits held up the process.

A good share of the funding for these ferries will come from federal transportation money that is supplying billions of dollars to every state in the next few years. Some money will be required from state coffers, but the ferries' construction will be a great deal overall.

The question remains, however, is whether there will be a legislative commitment to fully fund the operation of the ferry system, which serves as the lifeline to coastal communities from Hyder to the Aleutians. If reason prevails, ferry funding will remain stable.

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