Alaska Marine Highway System is Broke

The state of Alaska has a marine ferry boat service aka ‘Marine Highway’ that it can’t afford in the post oil-boom era. However with more coastline than the rest of the U.S.A. and many isolated communities it actually needs some sort of water transport for the citizen-public; not just for tourists.

Early in the territorial and state history of Alaska the federal government invested a lot in establishing people here. The cold war with the Soviets was just one reason why. Presently there is still good cause to invest in Alaska although politicians usually don’t find the good reasons so much as the bad. The state therefore needs to take the bull by the horns and build an affordable marine Highway infrastructure.

When I tried to return to Alaska during the Covid crisis I found it was becoming difficult. Canada had stopped travel for Americans across its border, and the ferry boat to Bellingham Washington was gone; in effect Alaska Airlines was the de facto state transportation system for some time.

The basic concepts of public ferryboat transportation in Alaska should be changed such that heavy lift and passengers would travel through separate vessels. Passenger vessels without cars or trucks can be quite fast and cheaper to operate. One can build fast trimarans to skim over the waters that survive quite substantial storms. Cargo barges can be built for heavy lift- perhaps motorized barges operated by private barge lines in conjunction with the state of Alaska. New designs for passengerless barges could be made and tailored to Alaskan needs and waters.

I like the idea of double-hulled barges with the inner hull detachable from the out hull when the outer hull need be taken out of service for maintenance and trimarans for passengers for short hops of 200 miles or fewer.

Another idea that has been mentioned in making a public corporation to operate the ferry boats. It is worth considering, however the means already exist to upgrade the existing structure albeit with substantial changes.

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