Public invited to comment on new ferry design

ACF Day Boat DOT Project Manager  Doug Miller points to the bow of the proposed ferry, where vehicles would load or unload.

ACF Day Boat DOT Project Manager Doug Miller points to the bow of the proposed ferry, where vehicles would load or unload. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

The Alaska Marine Highway System Manager says the first of two day boats will be sailing Lynn Canal even before the summer of 2016.

Captain John Falvey and other state transportation officials are holding meetings on the new ferry design this week. The first was in Juneau last night.

“The purpose of this was to have a lunch box boat.”

Will Nickum is an engineer for Elliott Bay Design Group in Seattle, architects for the day boats and other Alaska Marine Highway ships.

But the paradigm of state ferries is changing; instead of operating 24-hours a day, the proposed 280-foot shuttles would be tied up at the end of 12-hours, like the fast ferries Fairweather and Chenega.

“At the end of the day, the crew would go home and then come back the next morning and start all over again.”

The current design of the ferries show a closed car deck – but state officials originally said it would be open. That drew a lot of criticism from passengers who are familiar with Lynn Canal’s rough seas and spray. Boat architects Elliott Bay have advised against it. Nickum says it would cost slightly more.

“But the weather protection and the potential for lower maintenance, the recommendation was pretty strong back to the state and state’s accepted that recommendation and the design you see now has a closed car deck.”

The day boats would first serve Juneau, Skagway and Haines, carry 53 standard-size vehicles and 300 passengers, and travel at about 15 and a half knots.

There wouldn’t be much time in port.

“Rapid unload and load of the passengers and vehicles is important to meet this day boat concept,” Nickum said. “For rapid turnaround, need to drive through loading and unloading; not too much monkey motion around through side doors and what not. Really want to come on the bow, go off the stern or come on the stern and go off the bow.”

Juneau resident Bob Millard wonders how realistic that turnaround is. He rides the Alaska Marine Highway often, and also Washington State ferries, which are day boats.

“You know I’m concerned about crew fatigue and the time it takes to load in ports, like Haines, (where) you have a lot of tourists. The turnaround time I s probably a factor given all the traffic and inexperience of people loading and unloading.”

Millard says the potential delays would make that 12-hour day a very tight schedule.

The preliminary design study for the shuttle ferries came out last month and a public comment period is underway. This week’s meetings in Juneau, Skagway and Haines are strictly informational.

Marine Highway manager Falvey believes both ships will be operational by the middle of 2016. The funding comes from a previous Alaska Class Ferry project.

“We have approximately $118 million to work with and we feel very confident we can deliver both of these boats all said and done for that price.”

Falvey says the design team is now working detailed scenarios:

“What would the system look like when the first Alaska Class Ferry comes on. What would it look like when the second one comes on and there will still be mainliners running up through the canal.”

The public comment period on the preliminary design ends August 30. Comments should be made online through the Department of Transportation website.

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