A long-discussed project took a step forward after state leaders and a Juneau-based Alaska Native corporation signed an agreement to join forces in seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point.
More than 75 city and community leaders were invited to the signing event hosted on the deck of the Tazlina at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal Thursday afternoon where speeches about the collaborative effort were given by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson and Goldbelt Inc. Board Chair Todd Antioquia.
“This has been a long time coming and we know this is just a step, but this is a major step,” Dunleavy said. “It’s a commitment to see this through, it’s the beginning to see this through.”
The proposed project would extend Glacier Highway out to Cascade Point where it would meet a ferry terminal located on property that is owned by Goldbelt Inc., but would be leased to the state.
The terminal would accommodate the Tazlina and/or Hubbard and provide seasonal daily sailing to Haines and Skagway from March through September, with the possibility of year-round operations as well, according to the state’s recent nationwide request for proposals for work which outlined the basic facts of the project.
The terminal is projected to cost $36 million.
It’s estimated the new terminal would take about 30 miles and two hours off of the current one-way Juneau to Haines and Skagway trip and is being considered to include an 800-1,000-square-foot heated public waiting building with public restrooms along with approximately 20-35 spaces for passenger vehicle parking. Goldbelt also can choose to develop the area to provide commercial marine operations, including dedicated space for an AMHS facility.
“We know that to have strong communities we need to have strong transportation, strong economic development,” Antioquia said during his speech. “And know that’s why we are all together and working toward.”
Antioquia told the Empire Goldbelt is interested in pursuing additional development in the area but said the main focus right now is getting the terminal constructed.
Anderson told the Empire that the state intends to award the engineering contract to Peratrovich Nottingham & Drage Inc, an engineering firm based in Anchorage, which was one of the two applicants for the request.
While critics have said the project is essentially moving toward construction, rather than being evaluated for feasibility, he said it’s still far from a done deal.
“We’ll be beholden to any federal and state regulations and there’s a lot of moving pieces,” he said. “Part of this will also be the cost, right now it is a pretty dynamic physical environment with the cost of construction, inflation and everything else — and we don’t make a decision without factoring in the cost.”
He also noted the new terminal isn’t meant to replace the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal, but rather be an addition to it.
Rep. Kevin McCabe, a Big Lake Republican, told the Empire he thinks there is support for the project in the Legislature but said the strength of that support hinges on one question.
“Money. It’s always going to be about money — how much is it going to cost? How much is it going to cost the state?” he said. “It’s still in its infancy, we’ve been talking about this for years, but this is really the first step and I think the marine highway system needs some relief.”
According to the engineer and design proposal, the preliminary design is expected to be completed by December 2023, followed by multiple reviews during 2024 before the physical construction is anticipated to start in March 2025 and extend through December 2026. The project is anticipated to be developed and designed as one project, but depending on budgetary or scheduling limitations it may be developed in a phased process.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.