New estimate could increase Alaska Class Ferry cost

The state is reexamining its cost estimate for the first Alaska Class Ferry. And it’s likely to come in higher than the total allocated to construction.

Earlier this year, the Legislature set aside $60 million for its next generation of ships. That brought funding to a total of $120 million.

Many thought it would be enough to design and build the first vessel.

“Unfortunately, numbers tend to stick and $120 million is the number that stuck. So everybody believes that’s full funding for the vessel,” says Captain Mike Neussl, who runs the Alaska Marine Highway System.

He says the estimate is several years old and may be low.

“That may or may not be the case because we’re not on contract with anybody for a vessel at that price,” he says.

The ferry system has asked Elliot Bay Design Group, its architectural engineering firm, to revise the numbers. Ketchikan’s Alaska Ship and Drydock will likely build the ship.

Neussl says a lot of factors affect the cost.

“The price of steel, the cost of labor and the design of the ship. There’s a lot of factors that play into that, and whether it’s higher or lower, I couldn’t really tell you,” he says.

He’s unsure when the new information will become available.

Officials have decided not to take federal funds for the Alaska Class Ferry. That would add environmental requirements and block an in-state contract preference.

State government is the other source of construction money.

“I think one of the issues we need to keep an eye on is replacement of the marine ferries,” says Sitka lawmaker Bert Stedman, who assembles the Senate’s capital budget as co-chairman of that chamber’s Finance Committee.

“I have been hearing we may have to put forward a little bit more money for the first one. That has me a little bit concerned,” he says.

“But clearly we need to have a discussion on when we want to start funding the second one. Because we need to build two or three of these ships and retire our older vessels because of the operational costs.”

The first Alaska-Class Ferry will sail Lynn Canal, linking Juneau, Haines and Skagway. A second is slated to travel between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert. A third would double up on the Lynn Canal route.

The ships will be about 350 feet long and carry up to 500 passengers and about 70 vehicles. They will have crew quarters but no staterooms and will not sail overnight.

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