State rejects sole bid to build fast ferry

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state has rejected the only bid it received for a fast ferry designed to operate as a day boat between Juneau and Sitka.

In a letter Monday, Bob Doll, Southeast regional director for the Alaska Department of Transportation, told Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash., that its bid was nonresponsive to the state specifications.

The company had proposed to build the high-speed catamaran, the first vehicle and passenger vessel of its type to be manufactured in the United States, for $35.99 million. But the company attached conditions to that price, said DOT spokesman Dennis Poshard.

''Those conditions are being treated as confidential information. This doesn't necessarily mean it's over with,'' Poshard said.

The department could negotiate with Nichols Brothers or could reconsider other applicants that did not make an initial cut or submit a final bid, he said.

The Federal Highway Administration is paying for the vessel and also will have to be consulted, Poshard said.

The state had hoped to begin using the ferry between Juneau and Sitka in 2003.

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, a critic of the department's proposal for fast ferries, said this week he questions whether fast ferries will be economical. While crew costs will drop with fewer overnight voyages, the department is vastly underestimating the maintenance costs associated with ferries that travel at 32 knots, he said.

Taylor said he wants to assure the preservation of winter mainline service for communities in his district and to get continuity in planning. He said several road-building projects could make ferry trips shorter.

Taylor introduced a bill last month to take the ferry system away from the Department of Transportation. Senate Bill 130 would create a public authority that Taylor said would emphasize sound transportation planning.

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