I applaud a recent call for improved efficiency of the Alaska Marine Highway System, but I disagree with cherry picking of data to put the AMHS in the most extreme picture of spending as compared to the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities’ highway maintenance and operations. The two are so different and cannot be compared by identical measures.
Earlier this year we saw the cost of highway operations at two cents per mile compared to $4.78 per mile for AMHS. Where and how these figures came from was never announced. Having a background in public safety in Alaska, I can say that a moderately busy highway has a law enforcement cost of about $2.60 per mile. That does not include Department of Law costs for prosecuting highway related offenses or Emergency Medical Services costs.
In my opinion, it’s pointless to go down a “highway” of data juggling; there’s an old saying about figures lying and liars figuring. What’s most important is how we deliver AMHS services in an efficient and reliable manner.
We should agree that our coastal communities require a transportation system to retain their current economy, and to allow for development of new and expanding business. We got into the current fiscal mess through many administrations since the AMHS began over 50 years ago. We can’t fix it in one fiscal year or even one administration’s term.
The AMHS Reform Project that has been underway for about two years lays out a plan for taking the politics out of management. A new AMHS would be run by a board with marine transportation experience and a director appointed by the board. The board would have staggered terms to reduce the opportunity of meddling by politicians. The AMHS would still be funded by the state and collect fares, but would be run with the objective of efficiency, service and reliability.
In the meantime, the public will be better served if we don’t use red herring statistics that are divisive when offering a solution to the AMHS, coastal communities and Interior communities.
• My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.