Federal Funds to Finance New Alaska Ferry

M/V Tustumena
The M/V Tustumena. Photo: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

A plan to boost the reliability of the Alaska Marine Highway System with a new ocean-class vessel to replace the 57-year-old ferry Tustumena is now in progress, officials said. The goal is to have the new multi-million-dollar vessel traveling in coastal Alaska by 2027.

The new vessel would boost both the vehicle and passenger capacity of the older ferry, from 34 to 52 vehicles and from 160 to 250 passengers.

The state’s marine highway system, which serves a number of coastal fishing communities, has been hampered by increasing interruptions of service due to the need for maintenance and repairs of the aging fleet. The replacement vessel, to be competitively bid, is expected to cost $200 million to $250 million, with the money coming from federal dollars secured by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in the massive federal infrastructure legislation approved by Congress in November.

The package includes a $1 billion national program for essential ferry service to support rural communities, including the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The package also includes $250 million for an electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program to be conducted in Alaska; $342 million for construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities, of which Alaska should receive $73 million; federal-aid highway funds for the marine highway system for operation and repair and $5.25 billion for a low- or no-emission vehicle program on a national scale.

Plans for the replacement vessel for the Tustumena. Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities photo.

The CM/GC (construction management/general contractors) project allows the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities to address issues early in the design process, said Sam Dapcevich, the agency’s public information officer.

The agency said that while building a vessel of this size in an Alaska could be difficult, the hope was that in-state shipyards would bid. The work would help boost the state’s economy.

The first phase of the CM/GC process—a detailed design and cost review of the new vessel—is expected to be completed in 10 to 12 months.

The Tustumena, meanwhile, was in line for $8 million in upgrades and replacements, including passenger and vehicle elevators, steelwork, superstructure coating, bridge deck upgrades and interior engineering systems upgrades.

The repair work is scheduled to run from Dec. 16 through June 30.