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Rural Alaska

Alaska ferry system takes step to replace 54-year-old Tustumena

The M/V Tustumena, a 296-foot ferry of the Alaska Marine Highway System, departs Homer on Thursday evening, September 1, 2016. The Tusty route also includes towns on Kodiak Island, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. (Marc Lester / ADN)

KODIAK - The Alaska Marine Highway System has taken the first step in the process of finding a shipyard to build a ferry to replace an aging vessel serving southwest Alaska.

The highway system issued a pre-solicitation notice last month for the Tustumena Replacement Project, but a possible construction date and build location remain unknown because of a pending federal waiver, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Monday.

The federal waiver is required before a construction contract can be issued to replace the 54-year-old Tustumena vessel, which has been plagued by maintenance issues. Officials have been planning for years to replace the ferry.

"The pre-solicitation is the first step in bringing in a shipyard, via a competitive process, to conduct the final design of the ship, and try to get to a guaranteed maximum price with that shipyard," said Aurah Landau, public information officer for the highway system. "AMHS continue to wait for a federal Buy America Waiver from Federal Highway Administration for small parts of the vessel construction."

The Buy American Act "requires a domestic manufacturing process for all steel or iron products that are permanently incorporated in a federal-aid highway construction project," according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The Tustumena serves Kodiak, the Aleutian Islands and the Kenai Peninsula. Officials plan for the replacement ferry to be 330 feet (100 meters) long and 71 feet (22 meters) wide. It would need overnight accommodations for 250 people and capacity to hold up to 54 cars. The design also includes an 80,000-pound (36,000-kilogram) vehicle elevator.

About $244 million in federal and state funding has been earmarked for the project, with $222 million coming from the Federal Highway Administration.

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