- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - State transportation officials plan to take four of Alaska’s 11 ferries out of service next summer because of budget cuts.

The marine highway system unveiled its summer 2016 draft schedule on Tuesday. The state will idle the Taku, Fairweather and Chenega from May 1 to Sept. 30, and the ferry Malaspina will only operate during May, the Juneau Empire reported (https://is.gd/QkuuiJ).

The Taku has been in moorage in Ketchikan since last year.

“Right now, the marine highway system is fighting for its life,” said Robert Venables of Haines, chairman of the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board.

“It is rather abysmal,” Venables said. “This is definitely the lowest (service) we’ve seen in a very, very long time.”



Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the state transportation department, said they expect further cuts when the Legislature meets starting in January.

“Therefore, we’re planning accordingly,” he said.

The 11 ferries provided a combined 212.9 weeks of service in summer 2014. This summer, that dropped to 184.3 weeks.

“Next year, we’re proposing 145 weeks of service,” Woodrow said.

That figures doesn’t include time for ferries being out of service for breakdowns, which will have a bigger effect on schedules because of fewer boats in operation.

“With less ships in the water, we’ll have less flexibility to move around the schedule to pick up passengers that may be affected,” Woodrow said. “There may be times when people will be sitting for extra days or have to find alternative travel methods.”

The state is taking public comment on the proposed ferry schedule, but Venables also urged Alaskans to contact their lawmakers if they want to make a difference.

“We really need to focus on the transportation needs and what is basic transportation, and make our case to the Legislature,” he said.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com

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