Alaska DOT considering proposal for Berners Bay ferry terminal

The new Alaska Class ferry Tazlina floats for the first time at the Vigor Alaska shipyard in Ketchikan in on May 16, 2018.

The new Alaska Class ferry Tazlina floats for the first time at the Vigor Alaska shipyard in Ketchikan in on May 16, 2018. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration is considering a new Juneau ferry terminal 30 miles north of the existing one to accommodate the short range of the new Alaska Class ferries. It’s part of the plan to ensure day boats can connect Juneau with Haines and Skagway.

The Alaska Class ferry Tazlina is expected to take its maiden voyage next month. It’ll be a day run between Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal and Haines and Skagway.

Because the ferry has no rest areas for crew, Coast Guard regulations require the day boat complete its round-trip run within 12 hours.

But a March 26 Department of Transportation & Public Utilities memo released Friday to CoastAlaska through a public records request says the Tazlina won’t be able to make its connections within that time frame.

“There is insufficient time to conduct a round trip from Auke Bay to Haines and Skagway in less than 12-hours time,” writes Kirk Miller, a professional engineer at DOT.

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration had proposed adding crew quarters to the Alaska Class ferries last year.

In this new plan, $27 million would go toward a new seasonal ferry terminal farther north to keep the short-run ferries viable.

“With the reduced travel time, there can be double the frequency of trips,” DOT spokesperson Meadow Bailey wrote in a statement. “The project would result in a shorter ferry run, therefore reducing the cost of operating and reducing crew costs.”

The eight-page memo includes design plans plus a cost breakdown of road improvements required.

Cascade Point is near Echo Cove at the north end of Juneau’s road system. It’s on land owned by Goldbelt Inc., an Alaska Native corporation that operates a nearby commuter ferry for workers at the Kensington mine across the bay.

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, whose district includes Haines, Skagway and downtown Juneau, said she hasn’t been briefed on the proposal.

“All we know is rumors and things that are being presented at private groups in the community,” she said.

“My understanding is that the Alaska Miners Association Juneau chapter had a presentation that included information about a new ferry terminal and Cascade Point,” Hannan said. “But the committees on transportation haven’t seen or had any formal communications about it.”

In a letter to CoastAlaska accompanying the memo’s release, Deputy Commissioner Mary Siroky wrote that the agency has the authority to begin the project as part of the Legislature’s appropriations for the road project called Juneau Access.

The memo does not reference the Dunleavy administration’s proposed budget that would shut down state ferry service in October.

Nor does it reference the $250,000 contract for a private firm to study the Alaska Marine Highway System’s future. That contract has yet to be awarded: It’s been held up after the losing consultancy firm lodged a formal protest with DOT alleging the procurement process was unfair and arbitrary.

Details of the the Cascade Point ferry terminal plan first appeared earlier this month on Must Read Alaska, a conservative political blog.

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