The Alaska Marine Highway System achieved the nation's highest designation for a scenic route on Thursday.
The 3,500-nautical-mile ferry route connects 33 ports and stretches from Bellingham, Wash., to the Aleutian Islands.
It is now one of only 27 highways in the country that have been designated as an All-American Road.
"We were able to demonstrate that riding the ferry, in and of itself, was reason enough for people to visit," said Aneta Synan, state byways coordinator for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The new status heightens Alaska's eligibility for grants to market the state ferries to tourists and develop new interpretive brochures or displays for the ferries, Synan said.
"It's more promotion, at a higher level, by the Federal Highway Administration," added John Manly, spokesman for the Transportation and Public Facilities Department.
What it won't help in any direct fashion is the ferries' operations and maintenance budget. Total revenues for the system were almost $45 million and expenses were almost $90 million in 2004, Manly said.
Other highways previously awarded the designation by the Federal Highway Administration include California's coastal Route 1 and Alaska's Seward Highway in Southcentral Alaska.
"Sweet," said Tim Bourcy, mayor of Skagway, upon learning the news on Thursday.
"It's great to get that designation. It is our highway in Southeast Alaska. Now if we could only get people in the Railbelt to recognize that," Bourcy said.
The announcement came mid-day Thursday at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Seven other highways also received the distinction, including three in Virginia, two in Idaho, one in Washington and one in Arizona.
"This will enable us to continue enhancing the services we provide to Alaskans," said Robin Taylor, the state's deputy commissioner for marine transportation. "And it lets potential visitors know that this is one of the most unique and beautiful ways to enjoy our state."
For more information about federally designated scenic routes, see http://www.byways.org.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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