Slashed ferry fund worries Southeast mayors

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Southeast mayors are crying foul over a decision by the Murkowski administration to remove from the state's capital budget $68 million for a high-speed ferry to run from Juneau to Petersburg and another to run between Ketchikan, Wrangell and Mitkof Island.

But Republican Sen. Robin Taylor of Wrangell, who introduced the amendment to the budget bill, said the administration wants to hold off on building the ferries for a year to decide if the federal money should be used on high-speed ferries, road projects or a combination of the two.

Do we need to build a Juneau access road or should we keep running a ferry up and down Lynn Canal? Do we need the Rodman Bay Road so that we can transit people quickly in and out of Sitka with a connecting shuttle? Do we need the Bradfield Road (near Wrangell)? What about the Ketchikan bridge?'' he asked.

Taylor said Gov. Frank Murkowski asked him to introduce the amendment. It re-appropriates the money for ferries, terminals and connector roadways.''

Taylor said the federal money for the ferries comes from a funding source called Shakwak, which is named after a geologic fault along the Alaska Highway. The Alaska congressional delegation could seek to reroute the ferry funding to other transportation projects. Or, Taylor said, a year from now the state could put the money back into the ferry projects.

The state already has begun construction on two high-speed ferries, one to run between Juneau and Sitka and another to service communities in Prince William Sound. The Juneau-Sitka boat is the first of four planned ferries to be built and is expected to begin running in May 2004. The Prince William Sound ferry is set to sail in May 2005.

The decision to cut funding temporarily for the other high-speed ferries for Southeast has Sitka Mayor Fred Reeder concerned.

We're worried that they will not place that fast ferry in Sitka,'' Reeder said.

If the state doesn't build the last two ferries, Reeder said, it could decide to move the Juneau-Sitka ferry to another route in Southeast.

Petersburg Mayor Ted Smith said his community strongly opposes the budget change. He plans to visit with lawmakers this week to make his case. Smith said Southeast communities already have begun infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the new ferries.

Bob Weinstein, mayor of the city of Ketchikan, echoed the concerns, noting that if it the state decides to build roads, it could take significantly longer to fund and build roads than the ferries.

He also noted that some of the older ferries in the fleet could be decommissioned at the end of the decade, leaving Southeast with fewer transportation alternatives.

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