Southeast News

Advisory panel chimes in on transportation plan

The mainline ferry Kennicott pulls out of Whittier as fishermen watch. Ed Schoenfeld photo.

Alaska’s ferry advisory panel wants a few changes in Southeast’s transportation system.

The Marine Transportation Advisory Board met in Juneau Friday (Oct. 14,) to weigh in on the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan. That document is being reworked, and options include dropping mainline vessels, ending cross-gulf and Bellingham service, and building more roads.

Panel members liked plans to continue developing a new line of short-distance ships. Robert Venables of Haines is the advisory board’s president.

“There seems to be good support for two Alaska Class vessels, with a third maybe on the far horizon, with one in upper Lynn Canal and one down in the Gateway concept, between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert,” Venables said.

New ships in northern and southern Southeast could leave other communities with less service. Board member Gerry Hope of Sitka called for continued use of long-distance, mainline vessels.

“There’s the Mal, the Mat, the Taku, as old as they are, and then the Tusty, that is in bad shape. We need to provide that class of ferries an opportunity to be replaced,” Hope said.

Marine Transportation Advisory Board
members backed replacing one mainliner. They also voiced support for continued sailings to Bellingham, Washington, and Southcentral Alaska.

They are also interested in roads that would shorten ferry routes. That includes one from Sitka across Baranof Island. But it does not specify a highway up Lynn Canal.

The advisory board wants to explore plans for a new terminal at the end of an existing road to Berners Bay, north of Juneau. That would shorten travel to Haines and Skagway.

But members worried about how walk-on passengers would get to the site, about 30 miles north of Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal.

City planner Ben Lyman said that would be difficult.

“There’s no way that we can have a fixed-route bus service that goes to the ferry terminal and turns around at every half-hour or every hour when the ferries are coming in at 2 in the morning or 6 in the morning and not when there’s any ferries there,” Lyman said.

The board’s official comments on the transportation plan will come in a letter drawn up based on discussion at the meeting.

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