The Alaska Marine Highway System has a completed design for the crew quarters that will be installed on the Hubbard, and officials now are processing paperwork to put out a bid for the work within the next eight weeks.

"We're hoping to be in a shipyard somewhere ... by the first of November. That's our goal," said Capt. John Falvey, general manager of the marine highway, in an interview Monday. "We don't know where. Could be here, could be the Lower 48."

The installation is being funded with Federal Highway Administration money, Falvey said, but he declined to say how much the installation might cost.

"We've got an engineer's estimate in mind, but I'm not going to quote that because folks will be bidding on it," he said.

A October 2018 news story by Haines public radio station KHNS regarding a public meeting in Haines with AMHS officials about the Alaska-class ferries cited a cost estimate of between $13 million and $15 million per ship to install the crew quarters.

When planning work on the Alaska-class ferry, along with its sister vessel, the Tazlina, started more than a decade ago, the pair were envisioned operating as day boats making daily runs between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Consequently, neither vessel was built with crew quarters.

But at the start of 2019, AMHS revised the planned service routes for the ferries to have the Tazlina run in the Lynn Canal to replace the AMHS fast ferry Fairweather and to have the Hubbard replace the older state ferry Aurora while continuing that vessel's route in Prince William Sound, due to cost concerns and because the ferry dock in Haines had not yet been modified to allow the ferries to load and unload cars in time to comply with the U.S. Coast Guard's 12-hour crew work limit.

The Tazlina conducted runs in the Lynn Canal that summer and in 2020, but the Hubbard has not seen passenger service since it was completed in 2019.

That's because, without crew quarters, the Hubbard wouldn't be able to efficiently run between Whittier, Cordova and Valdez in that region while complying with the Coast Guard labor caps.

"Many of our runs stretch beyond that 12 hour day. ... We can't run that ship in Prince William Sound as a day boat because you'd have to be overnighting the crew. ... You'd only be able to run one leg a day, overnight, one leg a day, overnight. And that gets very costly, very tricky with crewing because you still gotta have a crew on at night. And you gotta have a crew in a hotel. You have to run the boat the next day," Falvey explained. "So ... the crew cabins are going to increase ... the vessel's ability to basically run to any of our ports."

Falvey said the marine highway hopes to have the quarters fully installed within eight to ten months. The timeline will vary depending on who wins the contract proposal.

"Embedded within these bids are timelines that shipyards can deliver with what they see in the design," he said. "Different shipyards, some are smaller than others, or busier than others — depends upon the size of the yard, depends upon the workload that the yard has got."

There will be other hurdles to clear, Falvey explained: The ship has no crew, and lacks a certificate of inspection and certification from the American Bureau of Shipping. AMHS officials are aiming to resolve those issues by the time the quarters are fully installed.

"Once we get into the yard, see what the timeline is — you know, as far as when we think we're going to get it delivered — then we will start bringing permanent crew onto the ships to start working through ... the certification process: the ... the Coast Guard certificates, the ABS certificates," said Falvey. "And the goal is, hopefully, between eight to 10 months, we're sailing it out of a ship yard somewhere with a full crew on it, fully certified."

He said AMHS still isn't sure whether the Hubbard will run in Prince William Sound or in Southeast Alaska once it's equipped with the crew cabins: "We haven't really made that decision yet. That's still a ways away."

He's also unsure how the state will proceed with work on its sister ship, currently located in Juneau.

"We don't know yet what we're going to do with the Tazlina yet," Falvey said. "We're going to do one boat at a time."