By DAN FOX
A replacement request for Skagway’s ferry terminal took a priority spot in the borough’s comments and response to the 2018-2021 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Borough Manager Scott Hahn’s letter on the STIP, sent to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, requests that the ferry project – currently slotted for refurbishment – be instead targeted for a replacement.
Hahn’s letter states that, according to the Alaska Marine Highway System staff, a refurbishment will only prolong the lifetime of the terminal by five-10 years, while a replacement would last 30 years. A replacement would also allow Skagway to accommodate “efficient” bow loading, which the new Alaska Class Ferries are capable of.
“As you may know, the northern Lynn Canal ferry route is one of the busiest, and our economy is highly reliant on efficient ferry service in order to support cruise ship visitation and visitors using the Klondike Highway,” Hahn wrote. “Though oil prices may have dampened the State’s budget, investing in projects that do not adequately address public needs will only serve to dampen local economies, which compounds the negative effects to the State’s overall fiscal situation.”
The proposed AMHS terminal renovations for Skagway drew sharp comments from Assembly Member Orion Hanson at a Feb. 15 meeting, relating to the STIP and the improvements Haines’ ferry terminal is slotted to get from the state.
At press time, the state documents have targeted Haines for almost $26 million to modify the existing ferry facility to accommodate end loading of AMHS vessels.
Skagway, in comparison, is being allocated $5,500,000.
“We’ve been saying the whole time we want a new ferry float that can accept the new [Alaska Class] ferries, and we continue to say that, so the STIP they’re putting out there, I don’t think as an assembly we’ve ever supported,” Hanson said.
On Feb. 21, Skagway received a letter from Alaska Governor Bill Walker in response to several pieces of correspondence sent from the municipality regarding the AMHS and the ferry terminal. Walker said in the letter that he understands the AMHS provides “a vital transportation link among Alaska’s coastal communities.”
“As we continue to examine options for the AMHS moving forward, we will keep in mind your request to rebuild – as opposed to refurbish – the Skagway dock,” Walker’s letter states.
Apart from the ferry terminal, Hahn’s letter to the state over the STIP plan also includes a request to consider STIP planning to widen the Klondike Highway, especially around the northbound lanes near U.S. Customs.
“Cruise ship visitation has been increasing significantly and is expected to do so for the foreseeable future,” Hahn’s letter states. “As the Gateway to the Klondike, Skagway knows that mining is on an upswing, and Skagway serves as an important import/export corridor for mining products and supplies, as well as for staple supplies such as groceries and other goods for citizens of the Yukon Territory. The demands on the highway are heavy now, and new demands will make the situation worse. The Department of Transportation needs to be ahead of this situation.”
The assembly approved sending Hahn’s letter to the state 6-0 at its March 1 meeting.