After attending a recent Marine Transportation Advisory Board meeting, I have a solution for those folks who can't afford to travel out of Juneau - go to work for the Alaska Marine Highway System. All employees and their families get to travel free on the ferries, and if you are invested in the retirement system (five years of service) you will be able to travel free for the rest of your life.
At the last advisory board meeting, officials of the marine highway system stated that during the summer months, 24 percent of the passengers and 18 percent of the vehicles are nonrevenue.
The Lynn Canal access road is the only highway in Alaska that, in the long term, returns money to the Alaska general fund. Contrary to certain myths, the Lynn Canal ferry run does not make money. It loses between $10 million to $20 million a year.
The maintenance costs on this road are less than $2 million per year. This is a savings to the state, as ferry subsidies come out of the general fund. This would, over a 20-year period after the road is built, save the state between $160 million to $360 million in operational costs.
Instead, our legislative delegation favors a lower level of service, in terms of capacity, longer travel time and reduced frequency. Their position locks in high state cost in this corridor as well as higher costs for the public users. Their position results in travel being unaffordable to the lowest income groups.
The run between Juneau, Haines and Skagway is equivalent to 1½ to two mainline ferries in run time. These boats can be used in the rest of the system, which will provide better service to the rest of Southeast.
These mainline vessels are reaching the end of their useful life. The current estimate to replace one mainline ferry is between $150 million and $200 million. Where will that money come from?
Now is the best opportunity to improve transportation in all of Southeast and save the state money.
Wallace K. Williams