State set to christen first of two long-awaited new Alaska-class ferries

The Alaska Department of Transportation has pegged Aug. 11 for christening the M/V Tazlina as the newest state ferry.

The 280-foot Tazlina and its twin sister ship, the M/V Hubbard, known as Alaska class ferries or day boats, are destined to start service in Lynn Canal next May, a mission they were specifically designed for.

But it's in winter when the benefits of the Tazlina and Hubbard will be fully realized, when smaller ferries that are less costly to operate are currently tasked with making the Lynn Canal runs, according to DOT spokeswoman Aurah Landau.

"The new Alaska class ferries are bigger boats than some of the small boats running in Lynn Canal. They should be able to run in the kind of weather that sometimes forces ferry trip cancellations.

"These boats are bigger, they're longer, deeper, heavier, so they can handle much higher winds and seas," Landau said. "So bringing those boats online should offer much more reliable service in Lynn Canal."

The Tazlina and the Hubbard are not only the largest vessels ever built in Alaska — at Vigor Industrial's Ketchikan shipyard — they are also the first state ferries built here as well.

Vigor Alaska Development Manager Doug Ward said the $101 million contract price agreed to in 2014 still stands but added there is still a lot of work to do on the Hubbard, which is scheduled for completion next spring. The completion is a few months behind the original target to have both ships done by this October.


"This is a big project, but we managed to get through the thing and the Hubbard is coming along really well. A good part of the structural steel work is complete now," Ward said.

Meanwhile, DOT's Landau said the Alaska Marine Highway System is still waiting to hear back on its request for a waiver from the Buy America Act for a $222 million, 330-foot ferry to replace the aging Tustumena.

The federal law requires steel and other primary components for American vessels be sourced domestically even if no one in the country is producing them.

The state has been waiting to hear back from the FHWA on the waiver for more than a year.

"We're just waiting for the Buy America waiver to come back and then we can begin the bid process. (The waiver) will affect if we have to go back and redesign and it will affect construction costs and abilities," Landau said.

Once the vessel, which has been designed, goes out to bid it should be ready for service after a few years of construction, she added.

State ferry construction is eligible for federal money similar to highway projects, but accepting the funding means bidding must be open to all shipyards nationwide.

The state self-funded the Tazlina and Hubbard in an effort to make sure they could be built in Alaska.

Ward said it is too early to say whether Vigor, which owns other shipyards in the Pacific Northwest, will bid on the Tustumena replacement project or even if it could be built in Ketchikan at all, given it will be a much larger vessel than the Alaska-class ferries.

"We're going to look at (the Tustumena replacement) and of course we won't know until we see the request for proposal," Ward said.