Marine Highway Plan Includes New Ferry
An infrastructure plan for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) includes significant capital investments, such as a new ocean-class vessel to replace the 57-year old ferry Tustumena.
Next Five Decades
Announcing the plan Monday with Department of Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson, Governor Mike Dunleavy said, “I’ve asked DOT to replace this key piece of infrastructure to ensure connectivity for our coastal communities for another fifty years.”
M/V Tustumena was built in 1963 and mainly handles the marine highway route from Homer to Kodiak and Unalaska. The ferry is one of two in the fleet of nine capable of sailing the open ocean; the other is M/V Kennicott.
A replacement vessel is estimated to cost $200 million to $250 million and will be competitively bid. The new ship is expected to begin service in 2027. The new ship’s vehicle and passenger capacity would increase by 40 percent over Tustumena, from 34 to 52 vehicles and from 160 to 250 passengers.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) will fund the vessel over multiple years using federal funds.
“The new vessel will make the fleet more resilient and responsive to the needs of coastal communities,” says Anderson, “through more passenger and vehicle space, but also more fuel efficient engines, diesel and electric propulsion systems, and an efficient design to move through the water easily.”
Anderson adds, “It will be built to serve coastal communities throughout our system, allowing flexibility to move our ships around during annual lay-ups.” Currently, M/V Kennicott is the only vessel qualified to handle the Aleutian route when Tustumena is idled for maintenance.
New Federal Dollars
M/V Tustumena‘s mainline route, typically run eight times per year, weather permitting.
Other planned marine highway upgrades include:
- $8 million in upgrades to Tustumena to extend her service life.
- The ability for passengers to plan trips around a reliable schedule. An 18-month schedule of ferry sailings became available for the first time on AMHS last summer.
- New crew quarters on M/V Hubbard, estimated to cost $16 million. If the project is awarded in state, it will mean more jobs for Alaskans.
- Backup ferry service for M/V LeConte, while the ship is in annual overhaul maintenance.
- A targeted recruitment program for maritime workers, given the global shortage.
- A newly established essential ferry service for rural communities with a potential for $1 billion in funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Congressman Don Young applauded the state’s swift incorporation of ferry funding from the IIJA. “The AMHS is an integral part of Southeast’s transportation portfolio,” Young says, “and I have been a long-time supporter of its operations. We knew the bipartisan infrastructure act would be a gamechanger for Southeast Alaska. Governor Dunleavy’s announcement is welcome news for our ferry system, and just the start of the tremendous progress this new bill will help us make on behalf of Southeast’s transportation portfolio.”
The IIJA includes $73 million for new ferry construction, worded in such a way to target service in Alaska.
“No other state has a ferry system like ours,” Young adds. “While we drafted and considered the infrastructure bill, I knew Alaska needed to have a powerful voice at the table. I am proud to have helped deliver this funding for Alaska, and am grateful for our delegation’s leadership on this vital issue. The Tusty has served our state well for nearly 60 years. With the new infrastructure bill, the time is right to replace the Tusty with a modern vessel that can help Southeast succeed in the coming decades.”
The marine highway serves thirty-five communities in Alaska and transports goods, vehicles and passengers between communities. The ocean highway also links coastal communities to Alaska’s highway and rail network.
This year the Alaska Railroad is celebrating 100 years of transportation people and cargo around Alaska. While the railroad is one of the states oldest transporters, it certainly isn’t the only one, and in this issue of Alaska Business we also check in on the Marine Highway, Span Alaska, and the White Pass & Yukon Route. For those interested in Southeast, our focus on that region provides updates on Kensington Mine, Tongass FCU, the troll fishery, and Juneau’s growing landfill.