"The Southeast Regional Transportation Plan calls for the use of a third and fourth fast ferries to be used between Juneau and Ketchikan, and we want to find out how well they will work in that area before we commit to build those vessels," said Robin Taylor, deputy commissioner for marine transportation at the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. "We have options on construction of the next two fast ferries, potentially a $100 million purchase when you factor in shore-side modifications that will be needed. We need to fully understand their suitability for their intended routes. After October 1, we will use the Chenega for a daily round-trip between Ketchikan and Petersburg, while the Fairweather will make a daily round-trip between Juneau and Petersburg.
"Between now and October 1, the Chenega will be joined in Prince William Sound by the M/V Aurora, which will continue on that route throughout the winter."
Taylor said Lynn Canal will be served by two day boats. Plans for other vessels in the fleet include having the M/V Columbia operate year-round between Bellingham and Juneau; the M/V Taku operate year-round between Prince Rupert and Juneau; and the M/V Kennicott operate year-round on a week-on/week off basis between Ketchikan and Prince William Sound.
"We have an objective to provide better service with the fleet we have, and I believe the proposed winter schedule does that," Taylor said. "It also means better year-round management of both the vessels and employees. In the past, we have laid-up vessels for periods as long as eight months. If we can avoid that, it will be better for the vessels' mechanical systems, as well as for the employees. And, it will result in better service for Alaskans."