Ferry service could link Kenai, Anchorage

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2007

KENAI - A ferry service linking Port Mackenzie and Anchorage is scheduled to start in about two years.

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Passengers and vehicles will be allowed on the ferry during its 2.6-mile route between Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The service is seen as an important step in the development of the Port MacKenzie area and as lending support for a Knik Arm Bridge.

Longer-range plans, however, could have ferry service linking Anchorage and Kenai and eventually at Point Possession, after a road is built extending the Kenai Spur Highway.

The status of the twin-hulled catamaran ferry Susitna, which is now in design and construction at Alaska Ship and Drydock Inc., in Ketchikan, was the subject of a briefing last week to the Tri-Borough Commission and Peninsula Mayors Conference.

The ferry is designed to carry 20 vehicles, perhaps a few more "with careful packing," and 114 passengers, said Lew Madden, the Mat-Su Borough's project manager.

The unique design will permit the vessel to break ice, giving the transportation system year-round capability.

"It will carry anything legal on Alaska's highways, it just won't carry very many of them," Madden said of the ferry, which is being jointly funded by the Mat-Su Borough and the Office of Naval Research.

The $50 million, 195-foot ferry will displace 940 tons fully loaded. It is designed to lift a central barge structure out of the water hydraulically, allowing speeds of up to 20 knots on the catamaran hulls, or lower the barge for beach landings.

Madden said there are firm plans to make runs between Anchorage and Kenai in the summer when ferry service begins. That trip of about 72 miles would take hours even at 20 knots.

However, if the borough's road plans come to fruition, a ferry port could be built at Point Possession, connecting Anchorage to a Kenai Spur Highway extension. That would leave about a 40 mile trip to Kenai, a significantly shorter distance than the drive around Turnagain Arm and over Turnagain Pass.

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