New bids for ferry sought

State hoping for Juneau-Sitka day boat by January of 2004

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

A Sitka-to-Juneau day boat could begin operations in January 2004, under a revised timetable by the Alaska Department of Transportation for the design and construction of fast ferries.

A new request was issued Thursday for proposals to build the first two of at least four high-speed catamarans, the first vehicle and passenger vessels of the type ever to be made in the United States.

In April, DOT rejected the only complete bid it received for the Sitka-based vessel, originally scheduled for operation in summer 2003. The $35.99 million bid by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Washington state was declared "nonresponsive" to the state's original request for proposals, for reasons that were never disclosed.

But DOT has revised its RFP and bidding requirements, after consulting with the original five bidders, said Bob Doll, Southeast region director for the agency.

The changes won't affect plans for the 32-knot ships to carry 250 passengers and the equivalent of 35 sports utility vehicles, Doll said. But bidders will have more opportunity to refine their design-build proposals as they go through the process, he said.

The new RFP calls for a contract to build two fast ferries, with an option for two more. The contract would be awarded in late December, if all goes well. Already two of the original bidders have asked for the new RFP, Doll said.

The second fast ferry would be assigned to Cordova. The Legislature secured $10 million in federal funds toward paying for it, but did not authorize additional ships through the use of a debt-incurring mechanism based on future federal highway funds. Doll said that in the 2002 session DOT will be back with that proposal, as well as a request for the balance in federal funds needed for the Cordova vessel.

Legislators, particularly in the Senate, voiced several concerns about the fast ferry technology and the wisdom of the proposed financing scheme.

"Public acceptance of the concept has increased significantly, and I hope the Legislature recognizes that," Doll said.

The optional fast ferries in the contract would be based in Ketchikan, making runs to a new terminal south of Petersburg on South Mitkof Island, and in Juneau, making runs to Petersburg. No decision has been made on a fast ferry for the Upper Lynn Canal serving Juneau, Haines and Skagway, pending a report being prepared by The McDowell Group, a Juneau research and consulting firm.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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