My turn: Access road would save fuel cost

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2008

After returning to town and catching up on the local news, I was reading the letters to the editor from former Rep. Mike Miller, Sen. Kim Elton and Pat Kemp. In Elton's letter, he refers to lamp posts leaned on by pro-roaders and misleading statistics presented by transportation department officials.

Well, that goes both ways. In my conversations with transportation experts both here and in Washington state, it appears Elton's lamp post won't hold the weight either.

Kemp's statement that more roads and shorter ferry runs will be the best way to save the ferry system seems to be the consensus of opinion among people with far more expertise than Elton or the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

In all Elton's examples of misleading statements, one fact is confidently left out. Fuel costs. Here is some simple math everyone can understand. According to the engineers on several ferries, the average fuel consumption for a round trip to Haines for the fast ferry is 3,000 gallons - about half of that for the Malaspina class.

The average vehicle gets about 14 miles per gallon, making the 140 mile round trip on 10 gallons. That means 600 vehicles a day would have to make the trip to use the same amount of fuel the fast ferry uses, or 300 vehicles for the Malaspina, assuming two trips a day for the ferry.

In the five-month peak season, the fast ferry would use 450,000 gallons and the larger ferry would use 225,000 gallons. Forty-five thousand vehicles would have to make the round trip to Haines in the same time frame to use the same amount of fuel as the fast ferry or 22,500 for the Malaspina. The ferries are not transporting anywhere near those numbers in a five month period simply because they don't have the capacity and the demand isn't there.

Dollar-wise, at $3 a gallon, the ferry costs $1,350,000 worth of fuel to operate for a five month period. The Malaspina costs $675,000. It would take 45,000 vehicle round trips in the same time frame to use the same amount of fuel. Now everyone knows the price per gallon of fuel is only going to go up, so these numbers are very conservative.

The savings to the traveler and the ferry system would be immense over a 20 year period in fuel cost with the road, not to mention labor and ferry replacement costs, which Elton confidently ignores just like the folks at SEACC.

Let's just be honest and state the obvious. Elton and SEACC just don't want to see a road through Berners Bay no matter what the savings to the state and the public. If they truly want to save the ferry system then stop the rhetoric and listen to the real transportation experts. After all, with all this global warming caused by burning fossil fuel, wouldn't SEACC and the senator want to do all they can to lessen the carbon output of transportation in Alaska?

• John Niemi is a Douglas resident and retired public servant.

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