Federal Funds to Finance New Alaska Ferry

The Alaska state ferry Tustumena is expected to be out for maintenance through June 2022. Photo via AMHS.

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

The new vessel would boost both 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 for Alaska 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 program, of which Alaska should receive $73 million; federal-aid highway funds for AMHS for operation and repair; and $5.25 billion for a low or no emission vehicle program on a national scale.

The CM/GC (construction management general contractors) project allows the Alaska DOTPF to address constructability issues early in the design process and address possible construction issues before welding a single piece of steel, said Sam Dapcevich, the agency’s public information officer.

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

The first phase of the CM/GC process, the detailed design and cost review of the new vessel, is to be completed in a 10-12-month period.

The Tustumena, meanwhile, is 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.