M/V Tustumena to be replaced using federal infrastructure funding

The M/V Tustumena will be replaced by a new ferry using federal infrastructure dollars.
The M/V Tustumena will be replaced by a new ferry using federal infrastructure dollars.(Photo Courtesy Alaska Marine Highway System)
Published: Dec. 4, 2021 at 3:04 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 4, 2021 at 3:08 PM AKST
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KODIAK, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Saturday from Kodiak that the 57-year-old M/V Tustumena will be replaced by a new ferry that will cost between $200-250 million.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson said in a press conference on Saturday that the funding for the new ferry will come from federal infrastructure dollars.

The original M/V Tustumena — which was one of the four original ferries constructed after voters approved a bond in 1959 and the only ferry designed for traveling to western Alaska and the Aleutian chain — is undergoing $8 million in repairs at a shipyard in Seward. The repairs are expected to begin in December and be completed in late June of next summer, according to an Alaska Marine Highway System fact sheet.

“It was dubbed the ‘trusty Tusty’ and is one of two ocean class ferries,” Dunleavy said on Saturday. “More recently though it has become known as the ‘rusty Tusty’ as the ship has sailed far beyond its initial design life as a workhorse of the ferry fleet system. I am committed to having a ferry system that not only connects our coastal communities, but is sustainable well into the future and that’s the key for a lot of things that we need to be looking at for Alaska as we look to the future.”

Dunleavy said that the Tustumena is currently costing the state approximately $2 million for overhauls and recertification each year, and that he plans to reinsert monies used for maintenance into the marine highway system to strengthen other areas. As state law requires ferries to be named after Alaska glaciers, students across the state will compete in an essay contest to name the newly constructed ferry.

Anderson said that the new ferry will be bid under a newly authorized construction manager/general contractor procurement method, allowing the final cost of the construction to be determined before it is started. The refurbishments of the original M/V Tustumena will include vehicle elevators, steel work, a superstructure coating and interior engineering systems upgrades. It will continue to be used until the replacement is built.

“We will pay for this using federal infrastructure dollars over five years,” Anderson said. “We have a design for the vessel right now. It’ll be a larger vessel that has increased capacity for passengers and vehicles, and it will be able to also make the most of today’s modern technology with more fuel efficient engines, and be more sustainable, and operate more consistently throughout this region.”

The newly constructed “Tustumena replacement vessel project” as dubbed by Anderson will allow for passage of 52 vehicles and 250 passengers, which is a 40% increase. As is the case with the current Tustumena, Dunleavy said that the new ferry will be home-ported at Kodiak island.

Koniag, Inc. President Shauna Hegna also spoke at the press conference and recalled fond memories of traveling on the Tustumena and noted the value provided to coastal Alaska communities by the marine highway system for goods, reliable travel even during inclement weather, and tourism.

“Regardless of the fond memories, I think all of us on Kodiak will tell you that it’s time for an upgrade,” Hegna said. “From what I understand, the call to replace the Tustumena with a larger ship came almost as soon as she was in service because in and around Kodiak the demand almost immediately surpassed her capacity. There are really few places on the planet where people thrive in an extreme maritime environment, but like the Tustumena and it’s crew, we do. The Alutiiq people have a powerful bond to the sea. In stormy weather we rely on our elders teachings so that we can survive and when the water is calm and the fish are plenty, we share the catch. And it’s these philosophies that have supported and sustained our people for centuries for maritime people like us. The sea is our super highway.”

In addition to the announcement that the Tustumena will be replaced in five years, Anderson noted that $14 million has been invested in upgrades to the M/V Hubbard taking place in Ketchikan, which will add crew quarters and allow for longer voyages.

House Speaker Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) thanked Dunleavy and Anderson at the announcement that the new ferry would be built.

“The marine highway has been one of my major focuses because it’s just so important to rural, coastal Alaskans,” Stutes said. “I am so delighted. I just want to start jumping for joy at the prospect that were actually going to be building the new Tustumena. It’s been a long time coming, we need it, and Governor thank you.”

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