A daily ferry from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert is one step closer to reality, said Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer.
As Alaska moves toward replacing some of its 50-year old vessels, the plan is to do so with faster ferries that make more frequent sailings. That could translate into a 10-hour crew sailing from Ketchikan down to Rupert and back, all in one day.
So far the State of Alaska has approved $60 million in last year’s and this year’s budgets for a new ferry. The estimated cost to build an Alaska Class vessel, a bit smaller than the Malaspina and Columbia, minus the state rooms, is $120 million.
The new ferries would not be a whole lot smaller than those vessels, but closer to the size of the Taku. That first ferry is be destined for Rupert, but for sailings servicing Juno, Haines and Skagway. But the plan is to build four new ones and the second one would be for the Rupert run, Kiffer said.
While construction on the first ferry is targeted for the spring of 2012, the Ketchikan community is also hoping it will be built right in Ketchikan at Alaska Ship and Drydock.
“It would bring major jobs to our community and put Ketchikan on the map. The last one was built in Louisiana ten years ago and there were huge costs involved with bringing it up here afterwards. We’d love to see them build it here,” said Kiffer.
Since opening in the early 1980s, the shipyard in Ketchikan has built airport ferries, barges and icebreakers. It is now going through a $30-million expansion and the time is ripe for a bigger project.
Kiffer said his government is always looking always pushing for more connections between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert and any increase in ferry traffic between the two communities would be a great thing.
“The service presently isn’t consistent enough. People have to stay four or five days at either end. Besides, in the past there were ferries going from here to Seattle three times a week and now it’s more like once a week and will probably stay that way. If they aren’t going to increase those trips then it makes sense to increase the number of trips to Prince Rupert,” Kiffer said.
Like Prince Rupert, Ketchikan has seen a decrease in the number of tourists visiting by ferry, so the hope is that daily trips would also help increase tourism traffic.
“This way we can encourage people visiting Prince Rupert to take a couple of days and come to Ketchikan,” Kiffer said.
Aside from tourism, Alaska is also very interested in shipping seafood to Asia through Prince Rupert’s container port, he added.