Alaska’s state ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway, is set to at long last get a replacement for its 57-year-old ferry Tustamena, which is now costing the state $2 million a year in repairs.
The state received a final design and specifications package for the replacement vessel from Glosten in February 2016.
On December 4, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson finally announced a plan to “re-energize” the Alaska Marine Highway System that includes the Tustamena replacement.
The marine highway serves 35 communities in Alaska and transports goods, vehicles and passengers between communities. The ocean highway also links coastal communities to Alaska’s highway and rail network.
The replacement vessel is estimated to cost $200 million to $250 million and will be competitively bid. The new ship is expected to begin service in 2027. The new ship’s vehicle and passenger capacity would increase by 40% over the Tustumena, from 34 to 52 vehicles and from 160 to 250 passengers.
“The new vessel will make the fleet more resilient and responsive to the needs of coastal communities—through more passenger and vehicle space, but also more fuel efficient engines, diesel and electric propulsion systems, and an efficient design to move through the water easily,” said Anderson. “It will be built to serve coastal communities throughout our system, allowing flexibility to move our ships around during annual lay-ups.”
The funcțional design of the ferry is complete.
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) will fund the vessel over multiple years using federal funds. Those funds are expected to come from the massive just-passed infrastructure act. The bill, for creates a new program for “essential ferry service” for rural areas. The eligibility criteria are that the ferry has to serve at least two rural communities that are at least 50 miles apart. Most U.S. ferry systems travel much shorter distances and observers believe that provision is in there thanks to Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.
The replacement ship will be procured through a competitive construction management process/general manager (CM/GC) process, the first phase of which will be completed in a 10-12 months period.
It is expected that the new ship will be placed in service in early 2027. Meantime, the Tustamena will get $8 million in upgrade and replacement work, with an estimated start date of December 16, 2021, and an estimated return to service date of June 30, 2022.