My Turn: Cascade Point ferries deserve a serious look

Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2005

A few months back Robin Taylor floated the idea that our northern ferry terminus should be moved to Cascade Point, just past Echo Cove. His idea was to run two conventional ferries on shuttle service between Cascade Point and Haines and Skagway. These ferries would run on regular daily schedules, and the northerly terminal location would make maximum use of our existing road system. Such a system would substantially reduce marine highway operating costs, result in quick, more predictable service and provide much greater vehicle and freight capacity than fast ferry service.

Unfortunately, the idea was quickly panned by the Empire, and the usual chorus of concern about Berners Bay was raised. Conflict with recreational boaters and kayakers was cited as a concern, as was the issue of getting walk-on ferry passengers to and from Cascade Point. Nothing has been heard of Taylor's proposal since ... and that's too bad. I'm definitely on the other side of the political fence from Robin Taylor on just about everything, but this idea has a lot of merit. But perhaps it didn't go far enough.

In addition to what Taylor proposed, I suggest that the entire Lynn Canal route be de-linked from the mainline ferry service, and the northern terminus of the mainline be moved to a new terminal located in downtown Juneau. This would save considerable operational expense for the ferry system by eliminating the additional hour and forty minute steam around Douglas Island to Auke Bay, and the redundant mainline service up Lynn Canal. Juneau arriving passengers would save considerable time, and through traffic would unload in downtown and drive the 40 some miles to Cascade Point to catch a north bound shuttle. With predictable arrival and departure times at Cascade Point, shuttle bus service could easily be organized by either Capital Transit or private carriers. This type of connecting service is commonplace in other ferry and road dependent regions such as west Norway.

This would leave only the fast ferry service to Sitka, and service to the smaller communities of Angoon, Tenakee, Hoonah and Pelican needing to use the Auke Bay terminus. Such an arrangement would actually lessen potential recreational boat conflicts by removing or reducing ferry traffic in heavily used areas like Auke Bay, the Breadline, Saginaw Channel and the back side of Douglas Island.

Having the mainline terminus returned to downtown would be a big plus for Juneau's tourism and independent traveler business. The current Auke Bay service, arriving and departing at irregular times, leaves walk-ons stranded far from town. Downtown arrivals would get tourist passengers right where most are headed, and would put all passengers in immediate connection with transport services. Walk-on travelers coming from the north would have connecting shuttle bus service from Cascade Point to downtown. Also, a new downtown terminus would integrate well with waterfront planning efforts in the vicinity of the sub-port, and could be an important anchor facility for quality development in that area.

Overall, such an integrated plan would go a long way toward improving Juneau access. The road to Skagway remains mired in controversy, and may never get built as originally conceived. Taylor's Cascade Point proposal actually mutes the argument for building a road through Berner's Bay, and should be welcomed by conservationists. By providing much better access in a way that can be accomplished in the near future, it should also be an acceptable compromise to many road advocates. That is particularly true now that it appears that the last road section into Skagway can't be built anyway, and ferry service to both Haines and Skagway will still be required from Katzehin. Taylor's suggestion is actually a good compromise, and something this community should get behind. Building a new mainline terminal downtown will only make it better.

• Douglas resident Greg Fisk is a self-employed fisheries consultant and was a past chairman of the city of Juneau's Fisheries Advisory Committee.

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