What others say: AMHS makes the best of a bad situation

  • Tuesday, May 26, 2015 3:50pm
  • Opinion

In the Lower 48, travelers have traffic jams and road closures to gripe and curse about. In Southeast, we have changes to the ferry schedule.

The Alaska Department of Transportation announced this week that the ferry Taku will be out of commission from July until August for maintenance before returning to service in October. Everyone who bought a ticket on the Taku will either have to cancel their trip or reschedule on another ferry. Communities that rely solely on the Taku are expected to see fewer stops this summer. The Marine Highway will juggle its schedule to make sure they have at least some port calls. It’s a frustrating situation, we know, but DOT is making the best of a bad situation.

Like every other state department, DOT is experiencing budget cuts. The House axed about $8 million from the Alaska Marine Highway System (the Senate cut $1.75 million more, but that was added back). After the House cuts, Gov. Bill Walker tossed a life preserver worth $5.5 million to AMHS through unused fuel trigger funds, a program that subsidizes fuel costs, to minimize changes to ferry travel this summer.

A few months ago, the situation appeared much bleaker than it does now. Though AMHS wasn’t unscathed by budget reductions, it also wasn’t hit as hard as other departments — your lobbying had a lot to do with that. The emails of Southeast Alaskans and coastal residents across the state swayed the minds of lawmakers.

Ferry service will continue, though not as frequently, while the Taku is sidelined. Such inconveniences must be expected as Alaska grapples with cutting its spending to match the revenue coming in. For the Marine Highway, that means increased fares, no bars on ferries and fewer sailings for the time being. Next year could be even worse.

As lawmakers from ferry-dependent communities have repeatedly said, Alaska’s ferries serve as public roadways for isolated communities. We agree they’re a necessity, not an accessory.

Residents of the Interior are likely bracing for more unfilled potholes and fewer road construction projects (if not, they should), just as Southeast residents must make the best of limited resources and funding for ferry service this year and likely next.

Still, in the midst of fiscal hardships, we think AMHS is making the best of a tough predicament.

— Juneau Empire,

May 14

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