Still seeking faster ferries

State wants bids for new boat despite shortage of funding

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2000

The state will probably go ahead with plans to build a fast ferry to run between Juneau and Sitka, despite not having as much money to spend as the project is estimated to cost.

``We are working toward issuing an RFP (request for proposals),'' Kurt Parkan, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said last week. ``We are clearly moving in that direction and that's our intent.''

The request for proposals is being rewritten to try to bring the cost down to what the department is able to pay, he said.

In 1999 the department requested and was authorized by the Legislature to spend $31.6 million for the vessel, most of that federal money. That request was based on a preliminary estimate.

A ``more fine-tuned, updated cost estimate'' indicated the project would cost another $6.9 million, Parkan said, so the department requested that additional money during this spring's legislative session. The Legislature turned down that request.

Parkan said the department plans to try to build the vessel anyway.

He believes the request for proposals, which was initially to be issued in April or May, will now go out sometime in July.

The request for proposals is still being drafted, but Parkan said it will probably be designed so that some items are optional, and firms would submit proposals on both the base project and on the extra items.

``Then we can decide what we can afford,'' he said.

He wasn't sure how long firms would have to respond. If the responses all come in too expensive, ``then we regroup,'' Parkan said.

Sen. John Torgerson, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which turned down the department's request for more money, said he had no objections to the department going ahead with the project ``if they build it for 31.8 (million) that's already been approved.''

``It's a different story if they award a bid for more money than they have,'' Torgerson said.

The vessel could probably be built in less than two years, Parkan said. There are six to eight firms in the United States capable of doing the work.

The Sitka fast ferry is the first of three the state DOT eventually plans to build for Southeast. No funding has been authorized, however, for the other two. One would run between Juneau, Haines and Skagway and the other between Ketchikan and Wrangell.

Torgerson said he has been looking into ways to finance those ferries.

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