Mat-Su wants ferry to sail until Knik Bridge is built

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is moving ahead with plans for a ferry between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie, even though Sen. Ted Stevens -- once the project's most powerful advocate -- has withdrawn his support.

''When I was home at Christmas, I had several meetings and I was told that the ferry concept was not feasible,'' Stevens said last month.

Stevens said he originally thought the ferry across Knik Arm would help Anchorage residents get to cabin sites quickly and would build demand for a bridge. But he said he became convinced that the ice flowing in and out on the Cook Inlet tides would prevent ferry travel in some conditions.

His spokeswoman, Melanie Alvord, said the people who changed his mind were ''business and labor people.'' She had no other specifics.

Mat-Su Borough Manager John Duffy said he flew to Washington and met with Stevens' staff to try to dispel reports that ice could sideline the ferry.

''We addressed the ice issue,'' he said. ''There really is no ice problem. They have ferries operating in Finland and Norway, where they have real ice.''

A representative from Lockheed Martin, which is working with the borough to seek funding, accompanied him to make the case, he said.

Duffy said the borough has $11 million waiting at the Federal Transit Administration to spend on the initial phases of the ferry, money that Stevens obtained for what the borough has named Port MacKenzie. Duffy said nothing he heard on his trip to Washington has deterred him from going ahead with the ferry plan.

An environmental assessment on the ferry and possible landing sites is due out next month, he said.

Crossing Knik Arm to make the undeveloped tracts on the other side more accessible to Anchorage has long been a dream in Alaska's largest city and in the Mat-Su Borough.

It takes about two hours to drive around Knik Arm from Anchorage to Point MacKenzie. A ferry is expected to cut the travel time to about 30 minutes, said Robin Reich, the project manager working on the environmental assessment at HDR Alaska.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says he wants a bridge. Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says he is also committed to a bridge, which has been projected to cost $600 million to $2 billion.

Stevens and Young, though, have been split over a ferry.

Young has said he doesn't want that marine link, which he sees as a temporary measure.

''I'm not going to take any half steps or quarter steps,'' Young said in November. ''It's going to be a bridge.''

Stevens wanted both, until December. He said a summer ferry might still be feasible, though he didn't sound compelled to fund the project.

''It's entirely possible some entrepreneur will set up a ferry,'' he said.

He had socked away $5 million in the pending 2003 appropriations bill for the ferry. He said last month that he hoped to put that money toward a bridge. House and Senate negotiators are working on the bill.

Duffy said he feels like he's up against more than the ice argument. Some bridge supporters believe that if a ferry is established first, opponents will say the bridge is no longer needed.

Duffy said he wants a bridge too, but in the meantime he wants the ferry until the bridge is completed.

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