Alaska's winter ferry schedule announced
AMHS sails ahead with funding on deck
September 1, 2023 | View PDF
It didn't take long for new Alaska Marine Highway Director Craig Torga to make waves. Since his appointment in March this year, he's been busy turning the ferry service around.
The winter schedule is now out and he's heeded the concerns of remote ports. For example, Kake, Angoon and Tenakee Springs will have two stops a week Wednesday and Saturday, every month this winter - a far cry from last year's dead zone in January and February. And Gustavus will also get two visits a week. Unfortunately, this year Pelican is the only community without regularly scheduled ferry service during the winter period.
The Kennicott ferry will be coming online in mid-December when Columbia goes in for its annual overhaul, but not before a nearly two-week blackout in service between Bellingham and major Alaska ports.
"There will be a service gap for Southeast for just under two weeks between Dec. 2 and 14," said Sam Dapcevich, spokesperson for the Alaska Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities. Columbia is scheduled to resume work starting March 15.
The Alaska Marine Highway System will not be taking reservations for Kennicott after the end of February until it becomes clear whether there will be enough crew to run both mainliners.
This winter, ferries LeConte and Hubbard will share service through the Lynn Canal, meaning either one ship will run or the other. That accommodates the scheduled overhaul of LeConte, which begins at the end of November, and the Hubbard, which goes offline in mid-March.
Pelican, which relies on a ramp, will lose regular ferry service when the LeConte goes offline. Its dock can't accommodate the Hubbard. However, supplemental contract providers will fill in the gap in service, Dapcevich said.
Federal funds will bolster ferries and infrastructure
With five of its nine ships over 45 years old, there are plans for three new vessels. The first, replacing the beloved Tustemena and bolstered by more than $286 million in federal money for new ferries and terminals from the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, will be diesel-electric; the second, diesel-powered hybrid; and, the third, a low-emissions ferry, which uses an alternative fuel such as methanol, natural gas, propane, hydrogen or electricity.
In mid-August, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took the M/V Hubbard from Juneau to Haines with Sen. Lisa Murkowski after his flight was canceled due to weather. He was in the state to tour its transportation infrastructure.
The AMHS master plan includes upgrading some docks to make them more accessible to the newer ships.
Another new program puts retired State Troopers on the ferries in uniform, which will hopefully calm the sometimes raucous frolicking, especially on the solarium deck.