The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has extended the deadline for applications for consultants to come in and study the ferry system.
Government officials previously called the period an “aggressive” timeline, one which proved to be a bit too fast after the department received only one application in the short 10-day period from March 1 to March 11.
“DOT&PF heard from interested parties, e.g., economists, legislators and the general public, that a longer time frame and larger budget were required. Based on this feedback, the timeline has been extended and the budget is increased,” said Aurah Landau, a DOT&PF public information officer in an email.
Based on new feedback, the timeline was extended with a deadline of April 2 for proposals and the budget was increased to a quarter million dollars.
The final Alaska Marine Highway System report will be due to DOT&PF on October 15, 2019, according to Landau. The budget maximum is $250,000. The target date for implementation of changes to AMHS remains the end of June 2020.
Landau said the department never made a final determination on awarding the one bidder who applied — whose name the department did not release — because the department had begun contemplating a longer, more expensive procurement due to the feedback being received. The fact that only one proposal was received further increased their concern.
“Governor Dunleavy, in consultation with DOT&PF and (the Office of Management and Budget), decided it was in the State’s best interest to focus a longer and more comprehensive effort on this topic,” Landau said.
The report is being prepared for the administration, she said, but will be shared with the Legislature and the public. The report will provide the governor with options to consider when submitting a budget and/or legislation changes. The Legislature may use it when considering the governor’s proposals or in proposing its own actions.
Bringing in a consultant is part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed plan for the ferry system. Dunleavy’s proposed budget would cut the ferry system’s funding by 75 percent in the next fiscal year, and would use a maximum of $250,000 of this year’s and 2020’s AMHS budget to pay for the consultant’s report, according to Landau.
In order to come up with the quarter million dollar maximum, DOT&PF looked at the time frame of approximately six months to review existing studies, synthesize relevant information and research reshaping options not previously evaluated, Landau said. Then, the department estimated the cost of two profesasionals, an economist and a marine consultant, along with support staff for the six months effort.
There have been numerous studies over the years on making the ferry system more efficient and financially viable, including a current AMHS Reform Project that has examined solutions in the past two and a half years including running the highway system as a public corporation. That reform study has been done through Southeast Conference. Some legislators have criticized this new directive, saying that another study doesn’t need to be done because they all say the same thing.
Landau said the new consultant will use these studies to inform their work.
“The state-funded AMHS studies are the minimum we want the contractor to evaluate before proposing possible solutions,” Landau said. “If the consultant finds other relevant studies, so much the better.”
• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at email@example.com.