The state Department of Transportation is proposing reductions to marine highway service in an effort to reduce costs. The cuts would affect ferry service across Southeast and in Prince William Sound if the legislature holds the line on Gov. Bill Walker’s budget.
These proposed changes could have significant impacts in communities along the marine highway. They could also save the department about 7.5 million dollars. DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says the reductions are just suggestions at this time.
“It is just a proposal or recommendation of a direction the department may go if the budget were to be passed today,” Woodrow said.
The department is proposing taking the Taku and Malaspina out of service for the summers. The Northern Lynn Canal would be served by the LeConte and other mainliners during this time, with fewer port calls. Mainliner service to Sitka and other Southeast communities would also be reduced. With the Taku out of from May to September, service to Prince Rupert would decrease from four to two days a week.
Fast ferries would also operate less in the summer under the proposal and not at all in the winter anywhere in the system.
There would be reduced service in Prince William Sound and increased travel time between ports with only the Chenega serving that area under the proposal.
Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito also represents Haines and Skagway, two of the busiest ports in the marine highway system. He says in light of the revenue shortfall facing the state, the proposal to reduce ferry service isn’t surprising.
“I think it’s going to have to happen because the department’s budget is about half marine highway and half rest of the functions, so roads, airports and buildings,” Kito said. “So I think [Walker’s] being reasonable in trying to decrease service.”
The state subsidizes the marine highway at nearly 70 percent. At that cost, Kito says the state has to find a way to provide ferry service more efficiently.
“There should be ways to looks at our assets, based on the number of vessels we have, our transportation network of all the communities to be connected together and find out how to provide adequate service that is more sustainable than it is right now.”
The proposed reductions follow other cost saving measures already implemented by the DOT, including closing gift shops and bars onboard ferries and a planned rate increase starting this summer.