NEW FERRIES WILL GO INTO SERVICE AS DESIGNED, BUILT
The Alaska Marine Highway System will make route changes and use the new Alaska Class ferries without the $27 million crew quarters that Gov. Bill Walker had ordered to be retrofitted on the vessels.
The Alaska Class ferries were built intentionally without crew quarters. Overnight quarters on the ships drive the operating costs up dramatically, and the system was meant to absorb these two vessels onto shorter routes that don’t need sleeping quarters and mess halls for state workers.
The ferry system will move the new Tazlina to Lynn Canal to replace the F/V Fairweather, starting this May. The new F/V Hubbard will move to Prince William Sound to replace the Aurora in 2020.
This operational shift will not require $27 million in capital funding that was requested by Walker to add crew cabins for the two ferries, which were built in Ketchikan. The Tazlina has been completed, while the Hubbard is nearing completion.
However, forward side doors will still be added to the two new ferries at a cost of approximately $3 million for both vessels.
FAIRWEATHER AND AURORA TO BE RETIRED
When designed and constructed, a project that began under Gov. Sean Parnell, the idea was to develop robust service for upper Lynn Canal, along with a 50-mile road to Katzehin for the Juneau route, closing the gap for access to Southeast Alaska’s largest city. The other ferries could be moved to communities that needed more service. Now, it appears the fleet expansion will have to wait due to budgetary constraints.
Additional savings will be found by retiring the expensive-to-operate Fairweather and aging Aurora before approximately $11 million in repairs are required this year.
The repairs would run roughly $1 million for annual Fairweather overhaul and $10 million for major engine repairs for to Aurora.
While service to communities will remain at roughly the same levels as outlined in the current summer schedule, there will be minor impacts from this shift.
The Tazlina is a conventional speed vessel that will probably operate seven days a week, rather than four, to provide the same level of service.
The Tazlina is also larger and can carry more passengers and vehicles. Additionally, the Tazlina is a more efficient vessel and will require $500,000 less in fuel costs annually.
The ferry system, having customers booked for the retiring Fairweather, will be contacting passengers impacted by this switch in vessels to rebook or refund fares as necessary.
“I commend AMHS for taking a hard look at the system and recognizing opportunities to save money,” said DOT Commissioner John MacKinnon. “By putting the Alaska Class Ferries into service sooner, we can replace vessels earlier and save on maintenance costs.”