The Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group is seeking public input regarding the future of Alaska’s ferry system.
Meetings will be held providing members of the public an opportunity to phone in with questions and comments on how the system can be reshaped into a more efficient and reliable service.
Admiral Thomas Barrett is the group’s chairman. He says it was formed by the governor earlier this year, about the time a study on the ferry system was completed by Northern Economics.
“So one of the charter issues was to take a look at that and to see if implementing those recommendations made sense. There's nine folks on the study group. I've got the chair. I think it's, you know, the Marine Highway System is enormously important to the state,” he said. “Now there have been a lot of study groups and recommendations made over the years and they don't seem to get much traction. And it's been contentious, right, from a budget and just a public policy point of view, at a state level. And so the charter was to take a look at that study and any other studies -- there have been a number of them out there, by Southeast conference, and the Department of Transportation going back some years, and see if we couldn't come up with recommendations that would reshape the system for the long term.”
Barrett said the group wants to hear from the public what the service should look like in the future.
“One of the tougher challenges is what's the right service level. Then the laws, the essential transportation service, what does that mean to different people,” he said.
He says the group has some preliminary direction, but needs more input.
“We do take them seriously. I take them seriously. And there've been some good ideas in there and there's a lot of perspective and, clearly, the system is very important to businesses and individuals and the kind of education and the health and the wellbeing of the cost of communities,” he said. “But, I do take the feedback we get seriously and, you know, we listen and we'll factor that in obviously to our recommendation.”
The Reshaping Work Group will look at the governance model used for the system, which operates as an arm of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
“Or should it be a more separate, independent -- more independent -- it’ll never be totally independent if you need state funding, but more like a state corporation,” Barrett said. “And there are models out there. You have the railroad, you have the rocket launch, you know the space program. You've got AIEDA.”
Barrett holds up the past couple of years of spotty service as examples of how the system needs to improve.
“It hasn't been too good in the last, you know, two years if you take a look at what's been going on. And so a more reliable system, and one that's, quite frankly, more cost efficient, you know, the money issue in the state at a high level is a challenge. So, that's kind of what we're doing,” he said. “We've been looking at governance and maintenance and the budget planning process is a tough one, you know, the business practices the system follows, and the service levels it provides. And so we're working our way toward a deadline to deliver a report here at the end of September and address those things and take a shot at trying to give them the path to a better system.”
The next meeting will be on Sept. 2, and will be streamed live (https://akleg.gov/). Comments may be given then, or submitted any time by email.
Contact for the work group:
Tera Ollila – Administrative Assistant
P.O. Box 112500 (mailing)
3132 Channel Drive, Suite 300
Juneau, AK 99811-2500
Phone: (907) 465-3905
Email us at: DOT.AMH-Reshaping@alaska.gov
During scheduled meeting times, meetings can be accessed live:
Call: 1-855-925-2801, meeting code 8352