The Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, and Fairweather at the Auke Bay Terminal on March 5, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, and Fairweather at the Auke Bay Terminal on March 5, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Ferry system aims to save money with vessel swap

Alaska-class ferries set to hit the water in next two years

Two vessel changes could save the Alaska Marine Highway System from spending tens of millions of dollars, according to a release from the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Wednesday.

A December meeting of the Alaska Marine Transportation Advisory Board showed that the ferry system would need $30 million to install crew quarters on the Alaska-Class Ferries Hubbard and Tazlina, according to a report from the Anchorage Daily News.

To avoid most of those costs, AMHS is putting the Tazlina in Lynn Canal to replace the F/V Fairweather starting in May 2019. The Hubbard will then move to Prince William Sound to replace the Aurora in 2020, according to Wednesday’s release. This will save the ferry system $27 million that would have been used to add crew cabins, the release states.

Forward side doors will be installed on the Hubbard and Tazlina at a total cost of $3 million. The DOT&PF release stated that this could also lead to other savings by getting the Aurora and Fairweather off the water before they required a combined $11 million in repairs this year. Upcoming engine repairs to the Aurora alone would have totaled $10 million, according to the release.

This doesn’t change the plans dramatically for the Aurora and Fairweather. The Fairweather was already scheduled to be laid up indefinitely in September 2019, DOT&PF spokesperson Aurah Landau said Wednesday. The Aurora was headed for those major engine repairs sometime soon.

[Fast ferry Fairweather faces foggy future]

Service to Southeast communities will change slightly. The Tazlina is slower than the Fairweather, but it will operate seven days a week instead of four in order to provide the same level of service, according to the release. The Tazlina is more efficient and will require about $500,000 less in fuel costs per year, DOT&PF officials stated.

AMHS will be contacting passengers who have booked trips on those ships to re-book or refund fares as necessary.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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