JUNEAU (AP) -- A fast ferry chartered by the state passed an important test last week: navigating the Sergius Narrows, which currently limits ferry traffic in and out of Sitka.
The state hired the 132-foot Klondike Express, a catamaran powered with two diesel engines, to test the viability of one-day runs from Juneau to Sitka. The narrows are about 25 miles northwest of Sitka.
DOT officials see a fast ferry as key to improving access for Sitka and establishing a Southeast Alaska day boat system with departures that leave about the same time each day.
The Klondike Express handled 6.9-knot tidal currents in Sergius Narrow with ease, said Bob Doll, Department of Transportation Southeast Region director.
''We felt we proved our point,'' Doll told the Juneau Empire. ''Our conclusion is that we won't have any difficulty keeping a consistent schedule.''
Smaller, mono-hull state ferries wait for slack water to run the narrows.
DOT conducted tests in the narrows in November with a 73-foot catamaran that had trouble keeping pointed in the right direction as the tidal pull pushed it around.
The Klondike Express cruised the waterway's strong tidal currents a half-dozen times, Doll said.
The state is considering building a 210-foot fast ferry to carry 250 passengers and 30-35 cars to operate out of Sitka.
Funding for construction of the ferry is not assured. DOT has authorization to spend $31 million in federal money for the vessel, based on a cost estimate made 18 months ago. More recent designs but the price at $37.9 million, but Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has refused to back the additional authorization of federal funds, saying more information is needed.
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