A passenger on the deck of an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. (Flickr Creative Commons - supafly)

A passenger on the deck of an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. (Flickr Creative Commons – supafly)

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska

A state lawmaker with a significant role in transportation funding decisions says parts of the Alaska Marine Highway should operate independently.

Sen. Peter Micciche is a member of his chamber’s Finance Committee and oversaw crafting its transportation budget. He says the ferry system should consider management changes.

“I think parts of the system should be privatized. I think Prince William Sound is the perfect example of some fairly local runs that should be privatized.”

The Soldotna Republican chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, which oversees roads, airports and ferries. He spoke at a Juneau meeting of the Southeast Conference, a regional development organization.

Micciche says he doesn’t advocate privatizing the entire ferry system.

“Keep the long runs, the longer routes, in control of the state. Privatize the smaller ones. And the cost savings could go to reliable service for the communities that absolutely depend on a state-run portion or segment of the ferry service.”

The idea’s already being considered in several coastal areas. Haines and Skagway officials want to study the feasibility of a Lynn Canal ferry authority connecting their communities with Juneau.

Marine Highway Capt. Mike Neussl told the Southeast Conference it’s a possibility. He says he’s also met with those interested in taking over Prince William Sound routes, such as Cordova, Valdez and Whittier.

“If a public entity, not necessarily a private entity, but an entity other than the … Alaska Marine Highway System was interested in operating a ferry service there, I think the state would enter serious negotiations with them to discuss vessel transfers, facility transfers and assistance to have them do that as opposed to the state doing that function.”

One part of the marine highway already separated from the larger system.

The Inter-Island Ferry Authority has run a ship between Hollis, on southern Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island, and Ketchikan for about 15 years. It’s a non-profit operation, run by a board of community representatives. Most of its revenue comes from the fare box. But it’s also received state subsidies most years.