KETCHIKAN - Two bridges proposed near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, could cut two hours off a round-trip ferry ride from Ketchikan to the Canadian road system.
Prince Rupert Mayor Don Scott said one bridge would connect Rupert to Digby Island, which holds the community's airport. The other would connect the island to a peninsula that contains Port Simpson, also known as Lax Kw'alaams, and Metlakatla, B.C., a different community than Metlakatla, Alaska.
Scott said Alaska Marine Highway System ferries could dock at a new terminal planned for Port Simpson, which is north of Prince Rupert and closer to Ketchikan. By docking at Port Simpson, Alaska ferries could avoid slowing down for other vessel traffic and cut out a circuitous trip around Digby Island to reach Prince Rupert.
Bob Doll, Southeast Alaska regional transportation director, said moving the marine highway terminal out of Prince Rupert would free up waterfront for the community. He said the time savings to the ferry system would be somewhat marginal but worth pursuing.
"Certainly it follows the same logic as the Southeast plan does, shortening the routes by providing daily trips by ferries along shorter lengths," Doll said.
Moving the terminal also could give Alaska ferries a much-needed new berthing facility, he said.
Port Simpson is accessible now by ferry, floatplane or logging road. The bridges and roads would make Port Simpson about a half-hour drive away from Prince Rupert.
Port Simpson has about 1,500 residents and Metlakatla has about 250 year-round residents.
"I think it will open this community up quite a bit," said Garry Reece, chief counselor of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation. "We have quite an opportunity for tourism and economic development. We have a fish plant that it's very costly to ship out with no road access. We have a barge system that comes in and take the product out and it's very costly.'
Scott told KRBD radio in Ketchikan that he estimates planning and development of the bridges and roads would take three years, with a 22-month required environmental assessment.
Construction would take another two years. Scott estimates the project's cost at $80 million.