The Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board on Friday will hold a work session to discuss the development of a comprehensive long-range plan for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Under the bill that established AMHOB enacted in 2021, the state Department of Transportation, "in consultation with" AMHOB, is obligated to prepare a "comprehensive long-range plan for the development and improvement of the Alaska marine highway system" that "must include priorities and goals for the Alaska marine highway system and a proposed strategic maintenance and vessel replacement."
At Friday's AMHOB meeting, Judy Chapman, the deputy director of DOT's statewide planning division, will present a draft "Scope of Work" document to the board laying out what information will need to be collected and incorporated as the plan is developed.
Renee Whitesell, who works for DOWL, the private firm that the state has hired to develop plans for AMHS, also will present the scope of work document to the board, DOT Communication Director Shannon McCarthy confirmed on Thursday.
McCarthy also confirmed that the "long-range plan" identified in the scope of work document is the statutory comprehensive long-range plan.
The draft scope of work document describes the work that the state expects to need to undertake in order to create a long-range plan. Friday's meeting will give the board a chance to review those components and recommend changes, Chapman explained on Thursday.
The three-page document breaks out the strategy for a long-range plan into three stages.
Stage 1 would define the scope of service and the existing conditions of the marine highway, drawing on the numerous studies and reports that the state has funded over the past five years, including the recent AMHS Comprehensive Evaluation prepared by the Washington firm Elliott Bay Design Group.
Progress on that stage of the planning is well underway, Chapman said, as much of the data and background is already available.
Stage 2 of planning would focus on "Engagement and Analysis," including the development of a "stakeholder engagement plan" and the development of a set of "Alternatives and Scenarios" — specifically, to "develop routing and vessel system alternatives (4 minimum) keeping in mind vessel capabilities and certifications, general service history, and scheduling," per the document.
Stage 2 also would involve the development of a "sustainability and resiliency plan," evaluating "current technologies to determine best practices for cost and sustainability and system resiliency for future operations" and considering "emerging technology, materials used on the vessel, electrification, carbon reduction technologies, and related issues and roadblocks."
With Stage 3, an alternative would be selected from among those drafted in the previous stage, and develop a fiscal plan for operations and capital improvements. It's unclear in the document whether these decisions would be made by the contractor, DOT, the board, or all three.
As a corollary to stage 3, the contractor or subcontractor would devise a gauntlet of hypothetical "stress test" scenarios for the marine highway to understand its vulnerabilities and identify potential solutions.
Chapman cautioned on Thursday that some of the language in the scoping document is obsolete.
Specifically, she noted the document's references to "modal analysis" — that is, analysis of other modes of transportation in addition to the marine highway system. For example, one of the components of the first stage of planning would be "existing demographic, modal and traffic analysis," under which a "contractor will evaluate the ability and scope of air, private barge services for supply/people access, and consider operational capability by vessel."
Chapman explained Thursday that since the document was written, DOT changed course and decided to include that multimodal analysis contract in the update to its Southeast Area Transportation Plan, rather than in the long-range comprehensive planning process.
Friday's work session also will give the board members an opportunity to discuss their own goals and ideas for long-range planning. Board Chair Shirley Marquardt on Thursday said she had encouraged board members to come to Friday's meeting prepared to discuss those topics during the work session.
Prior to the work session, the board is scheduled to spend a half hour hearing management updates.
Friday's board meeting will begin at 12:30 p.m. There will be time for public comment at 12:45 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m. The long-range plan discussion is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. and last for two hours.
Members of the public can join the meeting live on Zoom with meeting ID 817 8524 0231 and passcode 609698, or by calling in at 1-253-215-8782.
The meeting packet, including the scope of work document, can be found on the AMHOB website at, under "Meeting Materials."