Plan Set to ‘Re-Energize’ Alaska Marine Highway System

Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) and Ryan Anderson, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, recently unveiled a plan to “re-energize” the Alaska Marine Highway System.

[Above photo of the Tustumena ferry by the Alaska DOT&PF]

The marine highway serves 35 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.

[Editor’s note: On December 10 the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration awarded $12.6 million in grants to nine marine highway projects via the America’s Marine Highway Program. Those projects seek to address supply chain disruptions and expand existing waterborne freight services in Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.]

That plan includes the purchase of an ocean-class vessel to replace the 57-year-old Tustumena ferry – a replacement vessel that could cost between $200 million and $250 million. The new ferry – expected to begin service in 2027 – would feature 40 percent more capacity compared to the Tustumena or “Tusty” vessel, able to carry 52 vehicles and 250 passengers.

Gov. Dunleavy. Photo via the Alaska Governor’s Office.

“The Tusty has been plying rough seas for nearly 60 years and is approaching the end of its service life. Annual repairs for the vessel now reach $2 million,” explained Gov. Dunleavy in a statement. “I’ve asked [the Alaska] DOT to replace this key piece of infrastructure to ensure connectivity for our coastal communities for another 50 years.”

“The new vessel will make the fleet more resilient and responsive to the needs of coastal communities 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,” added Commissioner Ryan Anderson.

“It will be built to serve coastal communities throughout our system, allowing flexibility to move our ships around during annual lay-ups,” he said.

Other marine highway upgrades within the plan include:

  • $8 million in upgrades to the Tusty to extend her service life until the replacement vessel is ready.
  • A more reliable and longer ferry sailing schedule. For example, the agency introduced an 18-month schedule of ferry sailings for the first time last summer.
  • Crew quarters going in on the Hubbard ferry, estimated to cost $16 million.
  • A newly established essential ferry service for rural communities with a potential for $1 billion in funding coming from the recently enacted $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • Backup ferry service for LeConte ferry while it undergoes annual overhaul maintenance.
  • A targeted recruitment program to beef up Alaska’s ranks of maritime workers.
Related articles