The delivery and acceptance of two new vessels for the Alaska Marine Highway System is cause for much celebration. When the M/V Lituya and M/V Fairweather start revenue service in a few weeks, residents of Southeast Alaska will benefit from long-needed transportation improvements. Next year, the delivery and deployment of a second high-speed ferry will enhance transportation in Prince William Sound.
As more new vessels are built and enter service, the state of Alaska needs to take a hard look at how and whether to use the older vessels in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet. Some of the older vessels probably need to be retired and sold. Others might find new life on dedicated ferry runs that will best serve the public.
In the near future, the Department of Transportation should present the public with a proposed plan to use or dispose of existing vessels. In particular, the state of Alaska should address whether and how the M/V Aurora can be used. The fate of the M/V Taku is also of interest to many individuals and communities. Is it possible to utilize these and other older ferry vessels in a manner that will improve public transportation without unfavorable cost consequences? More than one person has suggested that the M/V Taku be used in Lynn Canal during the summer as a day boat. The department owes it to the public to consider such utilization or any other deployment that might make fiscal and practical sense before these vessels drift out of pubic ownership.