The Legislature allocated more money for new ferry construction before it adjourned.
Lawmakers put $50 million in the operating budget for the marine highway’s vessel replacement fund.
Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bert Stedman of Sitka says the appropriation could be used for any new vessel. That could include the first Alaska-Class Ferry, or something else.
“So it wasn’t intended, at least as far as I’m concerned, for targeting the first ship, but to continually add to the replacement fund,” Stedman says. “So when the governor wants to execute construction, the funds will be sitting there available for him.”
He’s most concerned about replacing the oldest ships, which were built about 50 years ago.
The Legislature has already put aside $120 million toward Alaska-Class Ferry construction. But transportation officials have warned that might not be enough.
Large projects are usually part of the capital budget, rather than the operating budget.
House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bill Thomas of Haines says legislative leaders argued that issue.
“That was one of the last things we agreed on. The Senate didn’t want to take it out. And rather than hold the bill up, we said ‘What’s the difference?” so we just allowed it to be in there,” Thomas says..
The 350-foot, mono-hull Alaska-Class Ferries will carry about 500 passengers and 70 vehicles. They will have crew cabins, but not passenger staterooms.
The first will sail Lynn Canal, linking Skagway, Haines and Juneau. A second ship, if built, would likely connect Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Stedman wants to wait before committing to the second ferry.
“After the experience we’ve had with the fast ferries I’d like to get one built and take a look at it and see how it’s received by the public and the marine highway system. And then make a decision to go forward with the second one or modify the plans for the second one and move forward,” Stedman says.
The state recently signed a professional services agreement with Alaska Ship and Drydock. The Ketchikan shipyard was named construction manager and general contractor for the Alaska Class Ferry’s design phase.