Alaska seeks bids to add crew quarters to idle state ferry

Design plans have been finalized to add crew quarters to a state ferry that hasn’t been in service since it was built because intended routes would go beyond limits for employee working hours.

The Alaska Marine Highway System intends to open the bidding process to install crew quarters on the Hubbard within the next two months, the Ketchikan Daily News reported Friday. Construction could be completed within eight to 10 months.

Federal Highway Administration funds will pay for the upgrades. The state ferry system’s general manager, John Falvey, declined to detail the engineer’s estimate to do the work because that could influence the bidding process.

However, numerous media reports have said it would cost up to $15 million each to add crew quarters to the two Alaska Class ferries, the Hubbard and its sister ship, the Tazlina, matching an appropriations request the state transportation department made to the Legislature in 2020.

Both ferries are 280-feet (85-meters) long and cost $60 million each to build. They can each carry 300 passengers and 53 vehicles.

The Hubbard and the Tazlina were envisioned to make day trips between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Because of that, neither was built with crew quarters.

Officials changed the routes in 2019. The Tazlina replaced the fast ferry Fairweather in Lynn Canal. The plan was to have the Hubbard replace an older state ferry, the Aurora, and continue its route in Prince William Sound since the dock in Haines had not yet been modified to allow the ferries to load and unload cars quickly enough to comply with the U.S. Coast Guard’s 12-hour crew work limit.

That 12-hour clock also prevented the Hubbard from completing runs between Whittier, Cordova and Valdez within the allotted window without getting hotel rooms nightly for the crews, a costly endeavor, Falvey said.

Instead, adding crew quarters will allow the Hubbard to go to any of the system’s ports.

Still to be decided is where the Hubbard will operate after construction of the crew quarters is complete and all necessary certificates are obtained. It could make runs in southeast Alaska or in Prince William Sound.

Also uncertain at this point is how the state will proceed with work on the Tazlina.

"We don’t know yet what we’re going to do with the Tazlina yet," Falvey said. "We’re going to do one boat at a time."

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