October 13, 2011 |

Comments due on ferry's future

Residents have until Nov. 4 to submit comments on the state’s plan for transportation in Southeast.

The Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan is updated every five years. .

At a meeting attended by about 25 residents Oct. 6, Department of Transportation officials outlined six alternatives for the system’s future, but said projected decreased ridership, the need to retire three mainliners and reductions in government funding will take a toll on the system regardless of what path is taken.

State rooms and hot cafeteria food are eliminated in plans for the new "Alaska-class ferry," the next generation of ferries, said regional planning chief Andy Hughes. Alaska-class boats will be slightly smaller than the ferry Taku.

Alaska is expecting to receive 30 percent less in federal highway aid starting in October 2012 and earmarks recently eliminated about $22 million annually in capital improvements for the ferry system, Hughes said. "Don’t expect the financial situation for the transportation to be as supportive in the future."

The ferries Malaspina, Matanuska and Taku will be 50 years old in 2013. They won’t be serviceable after 2027, he said. The state is expecting flat traffic growth or decline in the next 20 years, Hughes said.

Taking no action to change the system will result in large reductions in service and increased reliance on air travel and barge service, Hughes said.

Options up for public comment include not replacing one or two mainlines, dropping Bellingham and cross-Gulf routes, shortening the Lynn Canal run by moving the Juneau ferry terminal to Berner’s Bay, and expanding the road system in Southeast (including construction of an East Lynn Canal road to Katzehin) and linking towns with 10, $20 million shuttle ferries.

Although the state has cast options at six distinct "alternatives," the final plan may well include a mix of variables from several of the alternatives, Hughes said.

Gregg Johnson, chair of the Haines Tourism Advisory Board, said at the meeting that keeping at least one mainliner to Bellingham should be a priority. "If you’ve got to get south in the winter (with a car), the safe alternative is to get on the ferry south and go to Bellingham."

More information on alternatives, including specific impacts to communities, is available at the plan website, http://dot.alaska.gov/satp.

Residents are urged to send written comments and to provide information . They can be e-mailed dot.satp@alaska.gov or mailed to ADOT&PF Southeast Region, P.O. Box 112506, Juneau, AK 99811-2506.

A final plan is due out next year.