Marine Highway needs more consideration

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We need to talk about the Alaska Marine Highway System. Judge John Sedwick halted the Juneau road project and reminded me that I believe the Alaska Marine Highway System receives too little consideration in the transportation infrastructure plans for Alaska.

It seems the Alaska Marine Highway model evolved from the era of steamships. Fifty years ago, that made sense. Community development and interdependent commerce suggests we could borrow from models that seem to work.

The Prince of Wales inter-island ferry system links communities with displacement hull ships and daily service. The system eliminates the operating problems of catamarans experienced in British Columbia and Alaska. Crew members live at home (saves on-board crew quarters and provides more humane working conditions). The system also requires smaller shore-based terminals than for the mainline terminals.

The Washington state ferries use a roll-on, roll-off process to load and unload ships - about 10 minutes compared to several hours for Alaska Marine Highway ships. This allows for an increased capacity without additional cost.

Engineers perfected a tilting end-of-ship system for safe operation in rough waters by North Sea ferries, which would likely serve as well in similar Alaska waters.

Imagine the possibilities, such as a link in the Lynn Canal corridor with a small ferry terminal as far "out-the-road" as possible that would connect to a terminal as far south of Haines as possible and offer multiple daily sailings between Juneau and Haines. Likewise, we might see multiple daily sailings between Haines and Skagway.

All of this would minimize a transportation system parallel to Lynn Canal and take full advantage of the positive revenue stream demonstrated by daily ferry operations between Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

Gene Miller


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