Alaska class ferry design complete, construction upcoming


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The first pieces of the newest state ferries should start to come together late this summer if all continues to go as planned, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Deputy Commissioner Reuben Yost told the Senate Transportation Committee April 15.

Meant to service the busy Lynn Canal corridor between Haines-Skagway and Juneau, the design of the two Alaska class ferries, as they have come to be known, was completed in February, Yost said.

The design requirements of the ferries have not changed from a 300-passenger, 53-vehicle capacity vessel that can make a roundtrip from Juneau to Haines and back in 12 hours, he said. To accomplish those goals the 280-foot ferries will have a cruising speed of 15.5 knots and be powered by two 3,000 horsepower diesel engines.

The budget for both Alaska Marine Highway System ferries will fit into the $114 million remaining from a $120 million capital appropriation originally meant for one 350-foot vessel, he said. Designing the big ferry ate up $3 million and another $3 million was expended revamping that design to the “day boat” configuration.

All indications are the ferries will be built by Alaska Ship and Drydock, or ASD, in Ketchikan, which has been assisting the Marine Highway System in designing them, Yost said. ASD parent company Vigor Industrial executives have been working with the ferry system to iron out the project management structure and players, he said.

“This will be the first vessel ever constructed in the United States under the CMGC (construction manager, general contractor) process,” he said.

If talks with Vigor continue to go well, a final shipyard contract should be awarded in June, Yost said; if not, a bid would be put out in late May with a contract awarded sometime in July.

No federal money was used in the project so the state would have ultimate say over where the ferries are built, with the goal of keeping construction in Alaska.

“Next month we will begin line item by line item negotiations for the pieces of the vessels,” he said.

Passenger comfort was a top priority when designing the ferries, Yost said. At 35 feet longer than the M/V LeConte they should be able to handle what can be rough conditions in Lynn Canal come winter, he said.

A 15-foot wooden model of the hull design was taken to Norway and tested in wave conditions simulating the worst Lynn Canal has to offer, he said. The resulting hull motions were evaluated against a maritime industry standard motion sickness index.

He said the hull design passed 95 percent of the harshest January Lynn Canal conditions in the simulation.

“It basically says that if 10 percent of the people get sick on a two-hour (segment) of the worst part of the voyage, people are not going to want to ride that boat,” Yost said. “Some people get sick just looking at a boat and some, nothing will make them seasick so 10 percent is the standard.”

The dayboat design concentrates as much of the passenger activity as possible to the two passenger decks located mid-ship — the most stable area of the vessel — whereas the most room on the LeConte is in the front viewing deck near the rocking bow, he said.

Additionally, moving the “casings” to the side of ferries as opposed to the center, their location on most of the current ferries, will make car deck activity easier and safer, Yost said.

“When you’re walking on the car deck and you want to get to an elevator or stairs you don’t have to cross vehicle traffic,” he said.

Based on public feedback the ferries will have outlets at nearly every table and Wi-Fi is “being looked into,” according to Yost. A light menu similar to that on the fast ferries will consist of soups, sandwiches and salads.

On April 16 the Marine Highway System announced dates for public meetings about the M/V Tustumena replacement in three communities the 50-year-old ferry serves.

The first Tustumena Replacement Vessel Reconnaissance Report meeting will be held in Unalaska May 19, at the city hall. On May 21 a presentation will be given in Kodiak at the public library and a meeting will be held in Homer May 22 at Pioneer Hall on the Kachemak Bay Campus. All meetings will be held from 5-7 p.m. Individuals can participate via teleconference at 1-800-315-6338, conference code 3905#.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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