Responding to ferry needs with action

My turn

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2001

Alaskans are eagerly anticipating daily ferry service between communities. The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) will soon deploy new, more efficient ferries. AMHS afloat and ashore staff have achieved minor miracles in their efforts to minimize the impacts on the public of reduced service this summer after the devastating fire that knocked the M/V Columbia out of service. In the face of all of these achievements, the morose tone of the Empire's July 1 editorial is difficult to understand.

Residents have asked for more frequent departures, at more convenient hours, and less competition for space with summer visitors. The Southeast Transportation Plan has charted a clear course toward those objectives. Budget watchers have asked for a less costly operation. The Southeast Transportation Plan envisions a shuttle in Lynn Canal that will have a daily cost about one-third of what the Malaspina costs; it will not have the same capacity, but it will operate year-round, and it can run twice or more daily when required.

The AMHS has thoroughly studied the BC Ferry Corporation's and the Washington State Ferries' experience with new designs and learned from their successes and failures. The Washington approach succeeded; WSF plans to build additional boats. BC Ferry Corporation planned to operate large, high-speed ferries of its own design and its own construction on short commuter routes. For them, speed was a luxury; for us, it is a necessity if we are to provide daily service between distant communities. We will employ proven designs that are in successful operation around the world. Having designed and built their ferries in-house, BC Ferries found no one outside the company to complain to when operating problems surfaced.

The editorial suggested that builders for our ferries might not be found; but the fact is that seven design-build teams have asked for copies of the newly re-issued shuttle ferry Request For Proposal, two more than on the first attempt. The five original proposers have already spent some $200,000 each in pursuit of this contract. The Kennicott claim has not deterred those with money to invest.

Most puzzling was the reference to difficulties in meeting "new wastewater treatment standards." Existing ferries can meet the new standards and the new ferries will discharge all their wastes ashore. And, for the record, the Juneau Access EIS is alive and well, maintained in that condition by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

As Sen. Stevens has told us, we can not expect the ferry system to stay in the last generation forever. How it should be modernized has been the subject of debate for years. We have developed a transportation plan and a ferry concept that have met the approval of Alaskans. We intend to press on with the development of those improvements. If you want to know whether the public is excited about the prospects for daily service, just ask the folks who live in Sitka or Cordova.

We have listened to Alaskans discuss their transportation needs and we will continue to act on what we hear. The operative word is act; that is what the public expects and what we intend to deliver.

Bob Doll is the Southeast Regional director of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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