If you ride the ferry system, or have an interest in those who do, now is the time to speak up. If you are concerned with the routes the ferries take, or the number of port visits, or the age of the ferries, the state's Department of Transportation wants to know.
The DOT is preparing a new Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan (SATP). One of the requirements it must satisfy is providing an opportunity for public comment. The public comment window closes on Friday.
What would you comment on? Here are some suggestions:
The assumptions under which the planners are proceeding include a limit of $250 million in any 10-year period for new construction and a ceiling on operating funds of $77 million per year. Those are estimates, of course, and there is no indication of whether those are state or federal dollars. But it is reasonable for us to question whether we should be planning for a system that fits under some prescribed dollar limits, or whether we in Southeast should envision the system that will meet our needs and then approach our legislators for the funding. I know of no other transportation mode in Alaska in which the state establishes its maximum costs first and then determines what kind of transportation system it will build.
Planners are clearly inclined to eliminate Bellingham as a marine highway stop. If they get few comments on this concept they will be justified in believing that Bellingham is not considered important by travelers. Prince Rupert is of course the alternative, which then involves a drive through Canada. It may be that those who find difficulty in driving in Canada because of DUI convictions, animals or guns will find other ways to get outside. In the near term however, those travelers may find it impossible to drive to the lower 48 states.
There are five alternatives offered on the DOT's website. They pretty well describe all of the combinations that are possible in Southeast. But necessarily, none is a perfect representation of what any one of us would choose. Most of us would choose items from two or more of the prepared alternatives. But we have to let DOT know what combinations we prefer.
Finally, I mentioned earlier the idea that we should approach our legislators for the funding to build and operate the ferry system we need to serve Southeast. Those legislators include a chair and one additional member of the Senate finance committee, and the majority and minority leaders of the House. Plus, the 2010 election for governor is just around the corner; all the candidates will be cycling through Southeast on several occasions. There is no reason for us to be shy.
The DOT/PF SATP scoping process can be found at: www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/areaplans/
Bob Doll is a Juneau Assembly member and former Director of the Alaska Marine Highway System.