Alaska Class Ferry design nears completion

A 70 percent design drawing of the proposed Alaska Class Ferry. State DOT officials hope to have final design complete by the end of February. Image courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

A 70 percent design drawing of the proposed Alaska Class Ferry. State DOT officials hope to have final design complete by the end of February. Image courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Final design for the Alaska Class Ferry is expected to be complete by the end of this month, clearing the way for the state to award a construction contract to a shipyard this summer.

Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Reuben Yost says the state has preliminary estimates from Vigor Alaska, formerly Alaska Ship and Drydock of Ketchikan, and Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle. If the shipyard and architect are close on the final estimate, Yost says the ferries will be built in Ketchikan.

“When we have the contract design complete we will get estimates from both entities. That’s in early March,” Yost told the state House Transportation Committee Tuesday. “Then based on that, we will either be negotiating a maximum price with the shipyard or we will be advertising.”

In late 2012, when Governor Sean Parnell announced the scaled down Alaska Class Ferry design, he said his goal was to have “Alaskans build Alaska’s ferries in Alaska.”

Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) asked Yost what factors the department will weigh when deciding whether to award the contract to Vigor Alaska or go outside.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka). Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka). Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

“I think everybody’s got a vested interest in seeing the vessel built in Alaska,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “Presumably we would still build the vessel in Alaska even if the maximum price is a little bit higher than competitor shipyards in the lower 48, just because we’re keeping dollars in state. But do you have any sense of how big that discrepancy has to get before you would look at awarding the contract to an out of state shipyard?”

Yost said the most important thing is for the project to stay within its $117 million budget.

“If we face a situation where we had very strong evidence that the vessel could be built within the existing budget out of state, through a competitive bid process, but not at the Ketchikan shipyard, then we would have to seriously consider whether we would continue with this process,” Yost said.

According to Yost, Vigor Alaska and Elliott Bay Design Group are bound by confidentiality agreements that prevent them from sharing cost estimates with each other.

Yost said the state hopes to award a contract by June, with the first ferry completed by mid-2016 and the second vessel by mid-2017.

The 280-foot Alaska Class Ferries will be used primarily in Lynn Canal and on shorter Alaska Marine Highway System routes in Southeast Alaska. The vessels will be able to carry up to 300 passengers and 53 vehicles. Initially, the Parnell administration wanted open car decks on the boats, but the design was changed after input from the public and ferry designers.

Note: This story originally referred to Vigor Alaska by its former name, Alaska Ship and Drydock.

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