State to move forward with plans to replace ferry Tustumena

The M/V Tustumena pulls away from Kodiak on Jan. 11, 2020. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

It’s official: the Tustumena is finally being replaced. The over $200 million project was announced Saturday by Gov. Dunleavy during a visit to Kodiak.

“We’re going to be directing the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to move forward with replacing the Tustumena that has served Alaska and has been homeport here in Kodiak since 1964,” Dunleavy said.

With a design 90% completed and an estimated five years to award a contract and build the new ferry, delivery is expected in 2027. The new ferry will run along the Tustumena’s current route from Homer to Kodiak and out the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor.

The governor said the replacement vessel would be larger — increasing its passenger capacity to carry 250 people plus crew. It would also have deck space for 18 more vehicles for a total of 52 cars and trucks.

If it’s completed on time, it would be replacing a vessel that’s 62 years old. The Tustumena needs at least $2 million in maintenance every year, and the governor also announced an $8 million upgrade just to keep it running until the new ferry is ready.

The Tustumena replacement has been a years-old political project in coastal Alaska. Decades of braving some of the fiercest seas in U.S. coastal waters have taken their toll, and the vessel requires frequent maintenance. House Speaker Louise Stutes of Kodiak says it’s been a long time coming.

“Anybody that knows me knows that the marine highway has been one of my major focuses because it’s just so important to rural coastal Alaskans. And I just want to, again, give the governor and his administration a big thank you, for hearing us. He heard Alaskans, he heard Kodiakans, he heard people saying, ‘this is important to us,” Stutes said.

The current estimate for the total cost of the new ferry is between $200 and $250 million, according to DOT. That funding will be paid over a five-year period, using regular federal infrastructure dollars that’s also used for highways and bridges. That federal pot of money available to tap has grown considerably after President Biden signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill Nov. 15, according to DOT.

As per state law, the new ferry will be named for an Alaska glacier, with the name selected through an essay contest for Alaska students.

The project hasn’t been put out to bid, and it’s not known where the new ferry would be built.

KMXT - Kodiak

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