The Alaska Department of Transportation’s plans to update Ketchikan’s airport ferry terminals include reconfiguring the parking lot and building a new covered waiting area, said Ketchikan International Airport Manager Mike Carney.
Carney detailed three options for renovating the Revilla-side terminal, and said the final improvements will most likely be a combination of those options.
“It’s only gonna be on the Ketchikan side for right now,” he said. “The Uplands improvements on the other side are after these improvements are put in.”
The three plans provide for more parking spots, a new passenger waiting area; and reconfiguring the ferry queue lanes, and entrances and exits to the parking lot. Carney stressed that the parking lot redesign is key to passenger safety.
“Right now, the vans… if you don’t notice when you pull in there, then pretty soon you’re blocked in and you get to wait for 10 minutes for somebody else to get out of your way, or maybe they don’t get out of your way,” he said. “Then you end up backing up… it’s a fairly dangerous situation at times.”
Carney said reducing the speed limit on the stretch of Tongass Avenue that runs by the terminal would also improve safety, joking that the limit is often ignored.
“Along with safely [sic] is reducing the speed limit from 35 to 25,” he said. “Because right now, I think the speed zone sign is somewhere in here, but as you all know, if it says 35 here, that means you’re doing 45, and if it says 25 here, you’re doing…whatever.”
The project will cost around $80 million total, but Carney said the refurbishment will come at no cost to Ketchikan residents. Funding will come from the state, via its ongoing Gravina-access improvement project.
After Carney explained the basics of the plan, audience members voiced concern about some particulars of the project. Audience member Ann McKim insisted that designating a section of the parking lot for airport and ferry staff was essential.
“The employee parking; you know when you run a business, the employees shouldn’t be parking at the front of the store,” she said. “So, I would like to see that implemented now. You know, even if I park there and walk over to pick somebody up, I’m having to park way far away. So those people that are there all day long? They shouldn’t be having the front spots.”
Other attendees expressed concern about ferry rates increasing, but Carney said he doesn’t anticipate that will happen.
“This community’s not gonna pay a dime for that ferry, because we’re operating—we’re doing the state a favor in operating one of their airports,” he said. “We’re reducing the overall cost to the state of Alaska by 10 percent of their overall revenue for every airport in the state – this community is.”
Ketchikan’s airport is the only state-owned airport operated by a municipality.
Bill Swift, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, asked a question that seemed to be on the minds of many audience members.
“Not to imply that you’re responsible for the outcome here and the date, but is this gonna happen in our lifetime?” he asked.
Carney was ready with a response.
“Yeah,” he said. “Actually, everything you see is—my plan that everything you see on both sides – upland – on both sides improvements, I want to see complete in the next five years.”
Other members of the audience questioned the need for two ferry ramps on each side of the Tongass Narrows. Carney said having two ramps reduces the possibility of shutting down ferry service during required or emergency maintenance.
There were public-input meetings as the options were developed, but Carney said they weren’t advertised well, so few people attended. Another meeting is likely, but as of now, no date has been set.