Gov. Tony Knowles put the Alaska Marine Highway System's first fast ferry out to bid today.
The state is giving eight firms a chance to build a 190-foot-long catamaran that can carry 35 cars and 250 passengers at up to 35 knots from Sitka to Juneau and back. When the ferry starts service, sometime in 2003, Southeast's marine highway system will change forever, Knowles said.
``We are acting to free ourselves from the tyranny of the tides,'' Knowles said at a press conference today.
The new ferry, he said, will be able to get through Sergius Narrows, a narrow waterway between Peril Strait and Salisbury Sound north of Sitka. The tides there have been a bane to the schedules of the ferry system's mainline ferries.
Bob Doll, the Department of Transportation's Southeast regional director, said the ferry will run from Sitka to Juneau in the morning, then from Juneau to Sitka in the afternoon. That run, which should take about five hours each way, will take place seven days a week, he said.
He said the ferry should cost about $32 million, with about 90 percent of those funds coming from federal coffers. The $32 million price tax was the amount DOT originally estimated the fast ferry would cost. A revised estimate added about $8 million to that, but the Legislature denied the department's request for those funds. Doll said the difference was accounted for by a rewrite of the state's proposal. The proposal still asks for the same ferry, pretty much, but extras such as spare parts were left out.
The proposal also provides for an option for two additional fast ferries, but no money's been appropriated for those at this time.
Darryl Tseu, regional director of the union representing ferry workers -- the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific -- said the organization has mixed feelings about fast vehicle ferries. They may be the future, but they'll mean fewer ferry jobs, he said.
``At this point, the union has been pretty cautious about how we're going to look at it,'' Tseu said.
Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan supports the ferry, but is unhappy Knowles recently blocked $1.5 million to finish up an environmental study for transportation options for northern Lynn Canal. That study included a look at a road linking Juneau to Skagway.
Egan said he supports this fast ferry, which will make the trip to Sitka quicker.
``It's the Sitka shuttle, and we need that,'' said Egan, who attended the press conference. ``But we need improvements in northern Lynn Canal. I'm really disappointed that the governor vetoed the moneys to complete the Environmental Impact Statement on the northern Lynn Canal corridor.''
Knowles proposed a transportation bond package this year that would have included funding for two more fast ferries -- one for southern Southeast and another for a Juneau-to-Haines-and-Skagway run. That proposal failed in the Legislature.