Fast ferry funding package clears first hurdle in House

Bill would give Southeast $70 million for 2 high-speed ferries

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

The governor's $350 million transportation bond package survived its first legislative committee without generating much in the way of holiday spirit.

House Bill 319, introduced by Gov. Tony Knowles, would accelerate the construction of 11 transportation projects around Alaska if voters approve it. Passage would mean $70 million for the construction of two high-speed ferries for Southeast Alaska.

Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican, argued against an effort to alter the projects included in the bond proposal. The House Transportation Committee member said changes could lead to a gift-giving free-for-all in the Legislature as lawmakers try to add pet projects.

``You don't want to turn it into a Christmas tree,'' Hudson said.

The governor's plan, which proposes selling bonds to be repaid over 15 years mostly with federal highway money, had its first hearing in the transportation committee Tuesday.

The bond package includes two $35 million fast ferries, one to run between Juneau and Skagway and the other to run between Ketchikan and Wrangell.

The bill moved out of committee on a 5-1 vote, with opposition from Rep. Allen Kemplen, an Anchorage Democrat. He wanted more study of a plan to widen the Glenn Highway in Anchorage.

His objection ranged beyond the expense of the $65 million project to statewide issues, such as the lack of skilled workers in Alaska to handle the work the bond package would fund.

But the chairman of the committee, GOP Rep. Andrew Halcro of Anchorage, told Kemplen and other committee members that he didn't want to see changes to the measure. If members began altering the plan now, he said, that process would likely continue until the list of projects included in the bill becomes unmanageable.

Funding is already lined up for the first of three fast ferries Knowles wants to put in Southeast waters. That ferry would run between Juneau and Sitka and could be here before the end of 2002.

If the bond package is approved, the next two ferries would arrive sometime in 2003, according to Dennis Poshard, a Department of Transportation spokesman. The second ferry would handle the Juneau-Haines-Skagway run. The third ferry would handle the Ketchikan-Wrangell route.

During Tuesday's hearing, proponents of fast ferries testified without being countered by backers of a road linking Juneau to Skagway.

Support for the fast ferry plan, announced by Knowles in January, came from Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Sitka.

The bill's next stop is the House Finance Committee. After that, it would need the Senate and governor's approval before it could be placed before voters this fall.

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