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Thursday, Aug 8, 2013

Ketchikan assembly endorses ferry option

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

KETCHIKAN — Ketchikan city and borough leaders are supporting increased ferry service between Ketchikan and Gravina Island over a project that has been derisively labeled a “bridge to nowhere.”

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday backed off its long-standing support of a bridge, voting 5-2 to direct Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst to submit comments to Alaska’s transportation department, endorsing what is known as Alternative G4, KRBD reported.

That alternative calls for new ferry ramps and improved facilities next to the existing ferry terminals. It is the same alternative earlier supported by the Ketchikan City Council, which cited concerns with how the proposed bridges would affect cruise ship traffic.

The borough assembly also asked Bockhorst to request that the state extend the comment period on its proposed alternatives. The comment period is currently scheduled to close Tuesday.

The department has proposed six “build” alternatives to improve access between Ketchikan and Gravina Island, which is where the Ketchikan International Airport is located. There are two bridge and four ferry options, plus a no-action alternative.

Assembly Member Mike Painter said it’s unlikely Ketchikan will ever get a bridge.

“Uncle Ted is no longer with us. Gov. Frank is no longer in office,” he said, referring to the late Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski, once prominent supporters of the bridge project. “Our best time for a hard link access to Gravina has come and gone. It did get started, we did get the Gravina Highway. It looked like it was going to happen. But politics as they may be, the moon and the stars are no longer in alignment.”

Painter said he would like to see a better ferry system. An endowment fund to help pay for maintenance and operations would make sense, he said.

Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer said he’s worried that if the state doesn’t set aside money for operations, the financial burden for maintenance, operations and long-term replacement will fall on the community.

Assembly members Todd Phillips and Glen Thompson cast the two dissenting votes.