New ocean-class vessel to replace Tustumena ferry in 2027

Billions in federal infrastructure funds will boost capability of AMHS

The Tustumena. Alaska Marine Highway System photo

A new federally financed ocean-class ferry with increased vehicle and passenger capacity is now on the map for potential delivery in 2027 to replace the aging 57-year-old Tustumena for service within the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The Saturday, Dec. 4, announcement in Kodiak by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson involves use of billions of dollars in funds contained in the Biden administration’s massive federal infrastructure package approved by Congress in November.

Anderson noted that the Tustumena will be laid up for overhaul this winter, with the $8 million work contract awarded to a Seward shipyard. The overhaul will allow the Tustumena to keep going for the next five years, he said.

The package includes a $1 billion program to establish essential ferry service to support rural communities, including funds for AMHS, as proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Also included in the federal legislation is $250 million for an electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program to be conducted in Alaska; $342 million for construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities program, of which Alaska should receive $73 million; federal-aid highway funds for AMHS for operation and repair; and $5.25 billion for a low or no emission vehicle program on a national scale.

Alaska operators who previously received formula funds under this program in fiscal year 2020 included the Alaska Marine Highway System, Murkowski noted in a list of infrastructure bill benefits that will come to the state.

AMHS provides a marine highway that serves 35 Alaska communities, and links them to the state’s highway and rail systems.

Dunleavy said the new vessel is estimated to cost $200 million to $250 million and will be competitively bid, with the new vessel increasing capacity from 34 to 52 vehicles and from 160 to 250 passengers. Although larger than the Tustumena, the new vessel is being designed to have access to all current ports of call, the governor said.

Anderson said the new vessel would be serving throughout all routes, allowing flexibility to move ships around during annual lay-ups.

Sam Dapcevich, public information officer for DOT, said the department is using the CMGC (construction management general contractors) process, which allows the state “to address possible construction issues before they even start welding up the steel.”

Other marine highway upgrades announced by Dunleavy and Anderson included:

  • $8 million in upgrades to the Tustumena to extend her service life.
  • The ability for passengers to plan trips with a reliable schedule. An 18-month schedule of ferry sailings was available for the first time on by AMHA last summer.
  • Crew quarters on the Hubbard ferry in a project at an estimated cost of $16 million.
  • A newly established essential ferry service for rural communities with a potential $1 billion in federal infrastructure act funds.
  • Back-up ferry service for the LeConte ferry while the vessel is in annual overhaul maintenance.
  • A targeted recruitment program for maritime workers.