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1/14/2020
What’s next?

What’s to become of Alaska’s ferry system?

The answer could become more clear on Wednesday, when the Alaska Marine Transportation Board meets in Anchorage.

First formed in 2003 by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, MTAB provides recommendations to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facility in regard to the department’s marine transportation policies.

Over the years, MTAB meetings have included detailed information about ferry operations and fleet conditions. Budgets and forward-looking strategies are frequent topics, as well.

All of those topics are on Wednesday’s meeting agenda — which includes a scheduled presentation on the Alaska Marine Highway System economic reshaping study.

If the presentation occurs, it will be the first public information available from the study commissioned by the Dunleavy administration in May. The final report was due on Oct. 15. On Oct. 15, DOT announced that the Northern Economics firm conducting the study would deliver only a draft version that day.

“Due to the volume of data and complexity of the issues, DOT&PF is extending the due date for the final report,” stated the DOT announcement on Oct. 15. This will allow the department sufficient time to review for accuracy.”

The DOT announcement said a “final report will be available to the public in December.”

That didn’t happen. However, DOT’s announcement also stated that the department “will provide a final draft of the report to the Marine Transportation Advisory Board for review and comment.”

At the very least, an item titled “Reshaping Study” is on the MTAB agenda for Wednesday.

Given that the study is intended to analyze options — such as a public-private partnership — with the target of implementing an option by July 1, DOT should be prepared to release the full report this week.

Another reason to release the report now is that the Alaska Legislature will go back into session next week. Legislators will be deciding the AMHS budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, and would benefit from having as much information as possible going into the budget process.

The agenda for Wednesday’s MTAB meeting has several other AMHS topics of interest, including updates on service to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and AMHS schedule timelines for this year’s summer and fall service.

Also scheduled are presentations about the status of state ferries, and the AMHS reform initiative launched in 2016 via a memorandum of understanding between the State of Alaska and South Conference.

In sum, the information presented at Wednesday’s MTAB meeting in Anchorage could provide a clearer sense of the ferry system’s course.