JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Marine Highway System should move to a hub and spoke system in the northern Panhandle, linking small towns directly to Juneau, according to a study that also suggests a high-speed vehicle ferry connecting the capital with Haines and Skagway.
The study by The McDowell Group, released Monday, is a starting point for state officials in deciding how to amend the Southeast Transportation Plan. The McDowell report agrees with the organizing principle of the Southeast plan, which is to match service with demand and use high-speed vessels to make day trips, eliminating overnight crew costs.
The report calls for a fast vehicle ferry in Lynn Canal as soon as possible. Even before then, the state should deploy a shuttle between Haines and Skagway, the firm advises. That way, the Malaspina could alternate dayboat service between Haines and Skagway, cutting its daily operations to 12 hours or less.
At the summer peak, the fast vehicle ferry could make two runs a day, the report says. Each week in the winter, the Lynn Canal communities could expect one mainline boat and three to four fast vehicle ferry trips.
In the northern Panhandle, McDowell would change the whole concept of routing, from a circuit to a hub-and-spoke. A fast passenger-only ferry could serve all the communities except Yakutat, supplementing the LeConte. Routes would be based on linking small communities with Juneau as directly as possible, rather than making trips among them.
McDowell recommends first leasing a fast passenger-only ferry and then buying one later, if it proves successful. Eventually, a fast vehicle ferry also could be deployed.
The McDowell recommendations make a lot of sense, said Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the Marine Highway System.
But the sense of urgency in the report might not be realistic, he said.
''As soon as possible might be years and years and years,'' he said.
The Department of Transportation will decide within a couple of months whether to modify the McDowell recommendations in adopting the second addendum to the Southeast plan, Capacci said.
Then a decision will have to be made about how high to rank the improvements in Lynn Canal and the northern Panhandle on the priority list for the region.
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