Outside editorial: Ferry riders deserve better

Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Residents of Prince William Sound believed it when the state said a new fast ferry would offer service this summer. Speedier access looked like a boon for Sound communities and tourist businesses, which used the ferry service to recruit this season's customers.

Big mistake. The fast ferry is still tied up at the dock in Juneau. The Murkowski administration has yet to work out a labor agreement with ferry workers' unions. After that, training and field testing of the ship will take more time before the promised service can begin.

And even if the fast ferry does start sailing the Sound, it won't be there for long. For the fall and winter, the administration will move it to a Southeast Alaska route, serving the governor's hometown of Ketchikan.

Without the fast ferry, Prince William Sound businesses are getting cancellations in droves. They had built business plans around a state promise that's not being met. This botched situation is causing real suffering for people trying to build real businesses in the Sound.

The Prince William Sound fast ferry snafu isn't the only symptom of management chaos at the Marine Highway System. The fast ferry running between Juneau and Haines/Skagway was yanked to another route. Those who lost fast ferry service on the busy route between Juneau and Haines - which is the land connection to the rest of North America's highway system - naturally wondered if the move had anything to do with the governor's unabashed enthusiasm for building a controversial road between the two communities.

Gov. Murkowski summarily moved the ferry headquarters from Juneau to Ketchikan last year. He announced the move just hours after his transportation commissioner denied any decision had been made. The governor justified the move with a flimsy cost "savings" analysis that he refused at the time to expose to public review.

The governor's choice to run the ferry system, former state Sen. Robin Taylor, harshly criticized fast ferries while in the Senate. Two years ago, Sen. Taylor aided an effort by the governor to sidetrack $68 million that was lined up for building new fast ferries.

A former banker, Gov. Murkowski is thought to have brought considerable business acumen into office, even after spending 22 years in the U.S. Senate. Maybe so, but there has sure been a lot of management trouble - and the whiff of political manipulation - in his administration's handling of the ferry system.

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