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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Alaska Marine Highway System
By Capt. Art Johnson


January 11, 2012
Wednesday AM

I'm writing this, because of my concern for the direction that the Alaska Marine Highway System is taking. I'm a resident of Ketchikan and strongly support the idea of building any new ferries in the Ketchikan Shipyard. However, I think it is a mistake to build the 350 foot Alaska Class Ferries (TAKU size) without staterooms. Apparently, the no stateroom idea is being driven by the day boat concept and zone system of operation. This would probably provide for a vessel running between Prince Rupert and Ketchikan, another between Ketchikan and Petersburg and then from Petersburg to Juneau and finally from Juneau to Skagway.

The zone system was studied a number of years ago and after being discussed at length it was decided to scrap the idea. The reason being that it did not provide the desired redundancy. If one zone fails due to a ship's mechanical problems, for instance, then the whole system breaks down. It also would have little, if any benefit to the traveling public and most likely would create hardships. The inconvenience for a person traveling from Prince Rupert to Juneau is obvious.

The idea of day boats to save on crew costs doesn't make sense either, if we are to have a proper ferry system. If we want to save money, sell the high speed ferries, privatize as much as possible and reduce the bureaucracy. Also, to save money and provide for a more efficient ferry system, build three new Matanuska size ferries, that are identical in every respect, so that they can be readily utilized as needed. Then retire the three original ferries, the Matanuska, Malaspina and Taku, which are now nearly 50 years old. Presently we have a lot of miss matched ferries on the mainline, so that it is difficult to match staterooms (if the vessel even has staterooms) , crew sizes are different, engine parts are different, etc. Imagine the additional cost and difficulties of maintaining  so many different vessels. Obviously, the feeder vessels will be different than the mainline vessels.

The link to Bellingham is vital to the ferry system and the traveling public. It should be paying for itself, if properly operated. During the winter months the price for traveling on the ferries should be reduced to where Alaskans can feel like they are getting a bargain. I frequently hear people say that they would be riding the ferries, if the price was reasonable. The Columbia looks very nice with her Christmas lights and all tied up on the Ketchikan waterfront, but she should be spending the winters on the Bellingham run, doing what ships are designed to do.

The inside waters of coastal Alaska and Canada provide some of the most scenic waterways in the world and the Alaska Ferry System should be world class and take full advantage of this beautiful area, just as the, mostly foreign flag, cruise ships have.

Alaska has the resources to do it right, so what is the problem?

Capt. Art Johnson
Retired Master AMHS
30 plus years operating vessels on the Inside Passage
Ketchikan, AK

Received January 09, 2012 - Published January 11, 2012



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