Winter ferry schedule better than last year

A baggage cart, nicknamed Starfish, leaves the Chenega in Sitka Sept. 3, 2015. The fast ferry is tied up for most of this fiscal year. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
A baggage cart, nicknamed Starfish, leaves the Chenega in Sitka on Sept. 3, 2015. The fast ferry is tied up for the rest of this fiscal year. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

This winter’s Alaska Marine Highway schedule offers more sailings than the previous season’s. It also eliminates five-week service gaps for some communities.

The schedule, released Aug. 17, shows a 6 percent increase in sailings. That’s the difference between last season’s 166 weeks and this season’s 176.

Ferry system spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says one fewer ship will be down for major repairs at a key time of year.

“Last year, the Columbia went in for a major capital improvement project where it was out for the entire winter schedule,” he said. And this year the Columbia will be providing service through October and the first half of November, as well as the second half of April this year.”

Drivers move their cars and trucks off the ferry Fairweather at the Angoon terminal in 2010. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
Drivers leave the ferry LeConte at the Angoon terminal in 2010. Angoon will have more service this winter. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A draft schedule released in May called for more cuts. Overhauls of several ships would have eliminated service to Tenakee Springs, Gustavus and Angoon for more than a month.

Woodrow says marine highway staff found a fix.

“They were able to reschedule those overhaul periods and still provide service to Prince William Sound and those communities of northern Southeast Alaska without having a service gap this winter,” he said. “By doing so, we moved around the overhaul periods for the LeConte, Aurora and Fairweather and each one of those vessels will kind of be filling in for the other when they going to their overhauls this year.”

The schedule also shows no shutdown of Skagway service for part of the winter. That’s because planned repairs to the northern Southeast community’s ferry dock have been pushed back.

It’s not all good.

Work on the ferry Matanuska will cancel some southern Southeast sailings, Woodrow said.

“That is going into its overhaul in January to the beginning of February this next year,” he said. “And that will create a service gap to Prince Rupert during that time.”

Overall, service for the fiscal year is less than in the previous year, with more ships laid up.

That’s due to an approximately 10 percent budget cut tied to declining state revenues.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the caption to the second photo misidentified the vessel pictured. It’s the LeConte, not the fast ferry Fairweather.

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