Ketchikan wins ferries; Juneau road EIS released

Photo/Elwood Brehmer/AJOC

Alaska’s newest ferries will be the first made in the state after all.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced an agreement Sept. 20 between the state and Vigor Alaska to construct two Alaska Class ferries at Vigor’s Ketchikan shipyard.

Vigor Alaska estimated in a company release that the pair of 280-foot Alaska Marine Highway System ferries can be built for $101 million total, less than the state’s $120 million Vessel Replacement Fund budget.

“These vessels will be the largest ships ever built in Alaska,” Parnell said at an event in Ketchikan announcing the agreement. “Building these ferries in-state will be a major boost for Alaska’s economy. This has been our intent during the entire process.”

The state was able to control where the vessels are built by not using federal funds, which would require going through the federal procurement process that requires the lowest construction bid be accepted.

While the vessels are projected to be finished with money to spare, the delivery date has been pushed back more than a year to sometime in 2018, according to Parnell’s office. The project timeline on the Marine Highway System website forecasts a 2016 delivery.

Vigor Alaska’s business development lead Doug Ward said the timeline was revised in negotiations with the state in part to minimize cost. Vigor will be able to manage its workforce and reduce labor costs with longer lead times, he said.

The day ferries will mainly run in Lynn Canal between Haines-Skagway and Juneau. They are designed to hold up to 300 passengers and carry 53 vehicles.

The state currently has 11 ferries in its fleet, some of which are nearly 50 years old. Once the Alaska Class vessels are up and running one of the state’s aged mainliner ferries will likely be retired, AMHS officials have said.

The Alaska Class ferries are called day boats because they are designed for one crew shift voyages without cabins or crew living quarters to cut both capital and operational expense. This is a change from earlier plans to add a traditional mainline vessel to the fleet.

“You’re essentially getting two vessels for the price of one,” Ward said.

About a year behind the Alaska Class process, the Marine Highway is also designing a mainliner to replace the M/V Tustumena, which serves Kodiak, Homer and all of the Aleutian ports.

Early work on the day-boat project is scheduled to start in the coming weeks.

Ward said Vigor Alaska, formerly Alaska Ship and Drydock, plans to hire up to 80 full-time shipbuilders for the four-year project and ultimately grow its Ketchikan-based workforce to 250 employees. At the beginning of 2014 Vigor had 160 employees in Southeast Alaska.

A new project delivery method and the fact that the ferries will be identical will both help reduce overall cost, Ward said.

“You have a learning curve on the first vessel and then as that vessel’s getting midway into construction we can apply the lessons learned from the first vessel to assure that we stay within budget and within schedule,” he said.

Major steel construction on the second vessel will commence when the first is about 50 percent to 60 percent complete.

The Alaska Marine Highway System and Vigor Alaska project is the first time ever that a ship — in this case two — has been built using the construction manager-general contractor, or CMGC, delivery method, according to Ward. By moving away from the traditional design-bid-build process, in which “low bid takes all,” as he described, Ward said the state and shipbuilder can work closely together during the entirety of construction and mitigate the risk of delays and cost overruns.

The CMGC method removes the opportunity for large magnitude change orders that often occur during construction under design-bid-build, he said.

Under the traditional method the project owner typically selects a builder when it has a 65 percent concept design and the builder works through the technical design prior to construction.

“During that detailed design period, that’s when you start uncovering issues of constructability — if you put the engine over here you can’t change the oil filter, things like that,” Ward said.

Vigor used the CMGC process when it built the ship assembly hall in Ketchikan in collaboration with the state, which owns the shipyard property through the Alaska Industrial Export Authority.

Juneau access road EIS released

Just five days before announcing a deal to build new state ferries for Lynn Canal, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities released a supplemental environmental impact statement for a proposed road to parallel the strait.

The state’s $574 million preferred alternative in the draft EIS is to construct 48 miles of highway from the end of the Glacier Highway north to where the highway would end at a ferry terminal on the northern edge of the Katzehin River Delta. Alaska Marine Highway System, or AHMS, day-boat service would ferry travelers from the new terminal to Haines-Skagway and a new ferry would serve the route between Skagway and Haines. Another berth would be added to the Skagway terminal and mainliner service north from Auke Bay would end.

“My administration has worked very hard to advance the Juneau access project. As governor, I have fought for this project because I know it will create jobs, increase access, and grow economic opportunity for Southeast Alaskans,” Parnell said in a statement from his reelection campaign office.

The need for the nearly 700-page supplemental EIS goes back to 2006, when the Federal Highway Administration and state Transportation Department issued a final EIS and record of decision for the project that found the east Lynn Canal highway to be the best option. In 2009, an Alaska U.S. District Court ruling invalidated the first EIS because it did not include an alternative considering ways to improve canal travel with existing AMHS vessels. That ruling was upheld in 2011 by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Highway Administration decided to update the EIS in 2012.

Increased vehicle capacity in the corridor due to shorter, higher frequency ferry trips between the proposed Katzehin ferry terminal and the upper Lynn Canal communities would be the main advantage of the road extension, according to the updated EIS.

Projected summer vehicle capacity from Skagway-Haines to Juneau in 2020 under the plan would be nearly 1,500 per day, with demand at that time being more than 1,300 vehicles per day. It would also cut travel time roughly in half, from more than six hours to less than three and a half.

The “no action,” or status quo alternative, which assumes operation of the Alaska Class ferries in Lynn Canal, would offer space for 154 vehicles per day.

The east Lynn Canal highway is the most capital intensive of the eight alternatives investigated in the EIS but not the most expensive overall. Over a 36-year life the project would cost about $1.1 billion, the state estimates, with annual maintenance running about $20 million. Other options that include varying combinations of new road and ferry service are projected to cost upwards of $1.6 billion over 36 years.

The no action alternative would cost $670 million to operate, or about $15 million per year.

Updated: 
09/25/2014 - 12:54pm

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