Empire editorial: Fairweather to cut travel time and costs

Posted: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

A big thumbs-up to Alaska's fast ferry Fairweather and the reception it got from Juneauites upon its arrival at the Alaska Marine Highway System terminal on March 27.

The Fairweather, which was formally christened in Bridgeport, Conn., before making its trek to Alaska waters, will cut travel time by ferry from Juneau to Sitka, Skagway and Haines roughly in half. That's great news - and real progress - for Southeast Alaska.

Not only will the Fairweather be able to ferry Southeast passengers around the region in less time, it will do so at a considerable financial savings to the state: $76,000 per week less in operating costs, to be exact, in comparison to traditional mainline vessels, such as the Taku. The state paid $67.9 million for the Fairweather and a second ferry to operate in Prince William Sound.

The fast ferry can accommodate 250 passengers; 150 of them in the interior observation lounge and 100 in the midship area. There is also seating available in the vessel's solarium. Fast-ferry passengers will also travel more comfortably in reclining airline-style seats and in areas created for work or study, playing video games and dining from a full-service food court.

Thumbs up, also, to the Juneau Assembly for delaying a decision on a proposed smoking ban for Juneau's bars and restaurants.

The delay came Monday as the Assembly's Committee of the Whole decided to discuss the issue again in two weeks. Committee Chairman Jim Powell said weighing in on the issue is especially tough because it involves personal choice and freedom, but is, at the same time, a public health issue.

Powell is right: This is one thorny matter. The issue has been cussed and discussed for months now, and while it's unlikely that much will change on either side of the issue, the Assembly and its Committee of the Whole need to weigh this carefully before deciding. That process need not, however, be dragged out for long.

Arguments for and against the ban on smoking in public places in Juneau have been based on logic, reason, emotion, public health, freedom of choice, civil liberties and, dare we say it, politics.

Now that the Assembly is considering the smoking ban and its Committee of the Whole has agreed to review the matter in two weeks, things can and should proceed fairly quickly. Assembly members need to know, however, that their decision will, regardless, create anger and unhappiness. That much is certain.

Assembly members knew going into the job that there would be times like these. They go with the territory. Now it is time for the smoking issue to get the attention it deserves for the Assembly to make the decision that is right for Juneau.

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