Biden-Harris Administration announces funding to improve ferry service, better connecting Alaskan communities

    The M/V Tustamena-nearly $68.5 million is to replace this nearly 60-year-old ferry with a new diesel-electric ship. The new vessel will serve rural southwest Alaska.

    WASHINGTON (KINY) – Alaskan communities that depend on ferry service to connect with other parts of the state will see significant improvement due to increased funding of the Alaska Marine Highway announced Wednesday, Jan. 26.

    The Federal Transit Administration has committed nearly $286 million to upgrading access for 35 coastal communities, focusing primarily on rural communities.

    The funding allows Alaskans better access jobs, schools and healthcare. Ferry service remains critical for those living in small towns and Alaskan Villages along the coast.
    “For so many in Alaska, the ferry remains their only access to opportunity,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “Every American should have a chance at a better job, an easy way to visit family, access to healthcare and a path toward a better life. Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are investing in passenger ferries all over Alaska that will provide those opportunities while we help reduce our impact on the beautiful climate of that great state.”
    The grants to Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Utilities, are part of a total $384.4 million in federal funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand and improve the nation’s ferry service in communities across the country, as well as accelerate the transition to zero emission transportation.

    This funding will benefit millions of Americans – from Alaska to Michigan to Maryland – who depend on coastal waters, rivers, bays, and other bodies of water to connect to their communities.
    The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities was chosen to receive funding for six projects, including:  
    •    $46.2 million to build an electric ferry that will improve essential transportation to rural port communities while reducing emissions and improving the sustainability of the Alaska ferry system.
    •    Nearly $68.5 million to replace a nearly 60-year-old ferry with a new diesel-electric ship. The new vessel will serve rural southwest Alaska, improving service reliability, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preserving a vital transit lifeline.
    •    Nearly $8.6 million to plan for the replacement of aging ferries with diesel-electric hybrid vessels and develop the functional design of a new vessel.  
    •    $44.8 million to operate the Alaska Marine Highway System, which runs 3,500 miles and serves 35 Alaskan communities that face low transportation access and high transportation costs.  
    •    Nearly $72.1 million to modernize four, ships on the Alaska Marine Highway, ensuring continued service reliability, and continued quality of transit services.  
    •    Nearly $45.5 million to upgrade the dock infrastructure in five rural Alaskan communities. These upgrades will allow ferries to continue to service three small, disadvantaged, rural communities and two rural hub communities, including replacing 40-year-old infrastructure at one of the most active ferry terminals: the Auke Ferry Terminal. The upgrades will also allow the facilities to accommodate additional ferries, allowing for uninterrupted service moving forward.

    In total, FTA is awarding 23 grants in 11 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    Grants will support replacing old vessels, expanding fleets, and building new terminals and docks.

    Nearly $100 million of the national grants will go toward low and no-emission ferries, helping decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. See the full list of grants here.
    The funding, made available through three FTA competitive grant programs, will boost ferry service in rural areas, modernize urban ferry systems, and lower emissions by speeding adoption of zero-emission technology.
    FTA's Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program provides competitive funding to states for ferry service in rural areas. FTA is awarding $252.4 million to eight projects in four states.
    FTA's Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Program provides competitive funding for electric or low-emitting ferries and charging equipment that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using alternative fuels or on-board energy storage systems. FTA is awarding $97.6 million to seven projects in seven states.
    FTA's Passenger Ferry Grant Program supports capital projects to establish new ferry service, and repair and modernize ferry vessels, terminals, facilities and equipment in urbanized areas. FTA is awarding $34.4 million to eight projects in six states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    Projects were selected for funding based on criteria described in the Notice of Funding of Opportunity. In response to the Notice of Funding of Opportunity, FTA received 47 eligible applications in 16 states and one territory, totaling nearly $602 million in requests.

    Senator Murkowski noted that Alaska is receiving nearly 75% of the funds, because Alaska is the state with the most coastal communities. She gave a statement during a Thursday Zoom meeting announcing how important ferry service is to coastal communities.

    "It is their lifeline for these small communities. It is significant what it will mean to Cordova; what it means to Juneau to have these dock improvements. To recognize that the Tustamena will finally be replaced. We call it the Rusty Tusty. She's durable and she's tough but she has had a pretty long life for a vessel that is out in the Pacific waters. Being able to finally move forward with a replacement for her is extraordinary."

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