Communities in northern Southeast want more frequent ferry service to Juneau and longer stops here, according to a Juneau consultant hired by the state to study ways to improve the Alaska Marine Highway.
Consultant Eric McDowell told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce outlying towns see the Capital City as the region's hub and that local businesses should help cultivate better state ferry service.
"I don't think you understand really how critical Juneau is in all respects," McDowell told the chamber at a Friday luncheon. "Shopping, medical, politics, culture - on and on the list goes."
McDowell presented a summary of comments from residents in northern Southeast, spanning an area from Kake to Yakutat. The summary is part of a study for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities as part of its Southeast Transportation Plan.
The state hired the McDowell Group to find ways to deliver improved ferry service in the northern reaches of the Panhandle at less cost to the state over the next five to 10 years, said McDowell, adding he plans to release a final report later this year. As part of the study, McDowell talked to people in 11 towns about the ferry system and why they used it.
McDowell's recent presentation included findings from surveys of 300 households in Angoon, Elfin Cove, Gustavus, Hoonah, Kake, Pelican, Tenakee Springs and Yakutat. More than 80 percent of people surveyed in those towns ranked Juneau as their No. 1 ferry destination, McDowell said.
However, one of the biggest complaints from ferry travelers was arrival and departure times, he noted. Travelers said the schedule often is inconvenient and leaves no time to shop here during business hours - a point emphasized especially by people in Haines and Skagway during recent public meetings there.
"Everyone would like more speed, no question. And everyone would use the ferry more often if they're faster," McDowell said. "But the most important thing is convenient arrival and departure times during the normal day."
McDowell also summarized comments from Juneau residents who attended a public meeting here in May. Locals told McDowell they wanted round-trip service to Juneau from outlying communities with eight- to 10-hour stops here during business hours. Juneau residents also wanted regular, consistent scheduling similar to the dayboat Malaspina for all routes to improve freight movement.
Locals were divided over a proposal to build a port out the road at Bridget Cove for dayboat service as an alternative to the Auke Bay ferry terminal. Some people opposed an alternative port because it would mean longer drives to and from the terminal, but supporters said it would shave travel time off ferry trips, the report said.
Murray Walsh, chairman of the chamber's Transportation Committee, said the study should have considered an option to build two new ferry terminals: One on the tip of the Chilkat Peninsula south of Haines and another at Cascade Point, in Berners Bay. Terminals at those locations would shorten the Juneau-Haines trip from 64 nautical miles to 29 nautical miles, Walsh said.
"They're not going to look at that option ... because they didn't want to get into squabbles over new roads, and I think that's unfortunate," Walsh said. "They artificially limited their horizons."
McDowell in total posed 11 alternatives to improve ferry service, dividing northern Southeast into two areas: Lynn Canal (Juneau, Haines and Skagway) and the north Panhandle (Angoon, Elfin Cove, Gustavus, Hoonah, Kake, Pelican, Tenakee Springs and Yakutat).
The Lynn Canal area includes six alternatives: Mainline service only; dayboat (Malaspina) plus mainline service; dayboat plus mainline service and a Haines-Skagway shuttle ferry; dayboat with a Haines-Skagway shuttle ferry but no mainline service; relocate Juneau terminal to Bridget Cove area; and replace the Malaspina with a new fast ferry.
McDowell plans to announce preferred alternatives later this month, take public comment, then issue final recommendations to the state in September.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org