Another AMHS study not needed says group behind comprehensive 2016 study

Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 6:57 PM AKST
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In 2016, the Alaska Marine Highway System Reform Initiative was put into action as a means of ensuring the long term feasibility of the state's ferry operations.

At the time, declining funding and ridership prompted the creation of a 12-member steering committee to find alternative systems of operation under which the future of the marine highway system would be ensured.

The commission brought on two different consultants at the time — Elliot Bay Design Group and McDowell Group.

The report's findings, which can be found

, suggested that the AMHS would be most effectively operated as a state-owned public corporation, which would ensure the continuation of any marine transportation services while increasing public accountability.

Greg Wakefield is a member of the Alaska Marine Highway System Reform Committee, who also holds a spot on the state's Marine Transportation Advisory Board.

Wakefield says the report presented during the 2018 legislative session received little attention, and the committee expected it would be reintroduced at some point this year.

That doesn't appear to be part of the plan for the Dunleavy administration.

In February, the governor's proposed budget introduced massive cuts to the ferry system's funding as well as a reduced operation period. The governor also requested that a new consultant be brought on to identify potential options for reshaping the AMHS, including privatization.

Wakefield says a new study should not be conducted until the previous work has been fully considered.

The project lead from Elliot Bay Design Group, John Waterhouse, also feels that the 2016 study covered everything a new consultant might find. He says the findings showed that only one or two of the ferry routes that could be privatized, but ultimately, the government is providing a service and infrastructure that benefits citizens that private industry can't or won't provide.

"I think our body of work stands for itself," Waterhouse said. "I don't see how another study is going to magically change that answer, (which) is that the proposed cuts are going to be more than painful."

Gov. Dunleavy has already set the deadline for new findings to be presented by August, and a July, 2020 deadline for implementing an alternative system.

Wakefield agrees with the notion that the ferry system isn't currently being run in the best way to maintain a sustainable operation of its size, but he says a new study isn't going to change the previous findings.

"Everybody had high hopes that something would be accomplished," Wakefield said. "It would appear that the administration has no intent on following up on the work that has been done ... The studies are there, the information is there. All that somebody has to do is read them."