No fast ferries in public works, bonding bills

Juneau road projects in capital budget

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

Fast-ferry service for the Southeast is among Juneau's wish-list items missing in the capital budget and bonds package in the Legislature.

Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, unsuccessfully tried to amend a bond bill, Senate Bill 372, in the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday. Elton's amendment would have added a $35 million fast-ferry project for Southeast, but it was voted down, leaving Juneau with no projects in the $160 million bill.

"My eyes are getting old. I don't see any Juneau projects," Elton told committee members.

The bond measure is contingent on voter approval in November.

Funding for a different fast-ferry project in the capital budget was removed on the Senate floor Thursday by Sen. Robin Taylor.

Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, said the $20.1 million slated for the Prince William Sound fast ferry should go back into the Marine Highway Trust Fund to help run the system. Taylor opposes the Knowles administration's fast-ferry plan.

"If they do operate, they will operate at such a high cost in maintenance and fuel that you can't afford to operate it," Taylor said.

But Bob Doll, Southeast region director for the Department of Transportation, said fast ferries would cost less because crews are a quarter the size of those on mainline ferries, and the vessels would travel shorter distances.

Taylor said fast ferries employed in British Columbia and Washington state were financial failures because of lawsuits and regulations.

Doll said the fast-ferry projects for Southeast would do better.

"We have explained repeatedly that we have studied the experience of British Columbia and every other ferry operator around the world to make sure we do not repeat the mistakes they made," Doll said.

Elton said the Senate vote to exclude the Prince William Sound fast ferry substituted a political judgment for a professional one.

"We need to trust the judgment of the engineers, transportation professionals and the people who worked with the (Department of Transportation) to create the Southcentral transportation plan that calls for fast ferries," Elton said. "It wasn't something that someone pulled out of their back pocket."

A final Senate vote on the capital budget was expected today.

Although the fast ferry was cut from the capital budget, significant road improvement appropriations for Juneau were included. They are:

• $1.5 million for improvements to the Sunny Point intersection at Egan Drive.

• $1.45 million for improvements to Egan Drive from Whittier Avenue to Main Street.

• $11.55 million for improvements to Glacier Highway from Tee Harbor to Bessie Creek.

• $315,000 for resurfacing and shoulder widening of Old Dairy Road.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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