Three PWS ship terminals slated for upgrades

No new vessels are scheduled to join AMHS fleet through 2026

Plans are moving forward to modify docks at Cordova, Chenega and Tatitlek to accommodate new state ferries coming to Prince William Sound, but these modifications will take at least two years to complete, according to the latest Alaska Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Interim Long-Range Plan.

The updated long-range plan, as of mid-August, notes that the design process for all three terminals got underway in mid-2023, with the design and construction phase for the Cordova terminal expected to run through mid-2025. The design and construction phases for Chenega and Tatitlek are expected to be completed by the summer of 2024.

Also included in this three-year terminal plan, still in its draft stage, are the Southeast Alaska terminals at Angoon, Pelican, Auke Bay, Kake, Yakutat, and South Tongass.

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Ed Page serves on the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board, which is working collaboratively with the Alaska DOT on the long-range plan, said that the timing of the transition of new ferries into Prince William Sound will depend on when new ferries under construction become available.

Page, who is also the founder and senior advisor to the Marine Exchange of Alaska in Juneau, praised efforts of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to secure millions of dollars in federal infrastructure funds for state ferries. Back in July of 2022, Murkowski announced a historic $300 million being made available for ferries.

In late January of this year Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, also R-Alaska, announced over $285 million in investments from the Federal Transit Administration to improve the reliability and service of Alaska’s ferry system, which serves over 30 communities along 3,500 miles of coastline. Those funds via the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act were earmarked for replacing an aging ferry, upgrading ferry dock infrastructure in rural communities, modernizing four vessels, procuring an electric ferry, designing a new mainliner vessel, and generating sustainable operations.


Even with all these federal dollars coming in, AMHS officials are still struggling to hire enough qualified crew to operate the existing ferries.

The AMHS Long Range Plan is a guidebook for investment on AMHS upgrades over the next 20 years, to set a vision for service in 2045, and to identify incremental investments in the short, medium and long term to achieve that vision. Authors of the interim long-range plan said it marks an important milestone in the planning process and offers recommendations for a planning horizon from 2024 through 2026.

The document notes that development and vision for these planned investments is informed by priorities and needs of Alaskans who use and depend on the marine highway system for connections to goods and services, including medical, social, cultural, and recreational. The long-term plan also is mandated to identify the long-term vision and provide incremental investment, policy and tools needed to realize that vision. Phase 1 of that plan is focused on the next three years. 

The final document is planned to encompass the 20-year planning horizon, from 2023 to 2045.

The AMHS fleet currently consists of nine vessels: four mainline, four day boats and one shuttle vessel.

The Southcentral region routes include communities in Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula, proving connections by road to Valdez, Whittier and Homer. The day boat M/V Aurora at this time provides year-round service between Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, Chenega and Tatitlek. The M/V Kennicott provides service between the Prince William Sound area and the Kenai Peninsula on the Cross Gulf Route.

No new vessels are planned to join the fleet between 2024 and 2026, the report said.

The interim plan report notes that service reduction began in 2014 due to reduced funding, as the state faced budget issues. The situation continued over the next five years as operating budgets continued to be reduced, along with a lack of capital investment in vessel maintenance and replacement projects, which resulted in fewer vessels available for service.

Ferry service was also impacted by the 2019 union strike.

In 2020 and 2021 service levels continued to decline when the global COVID-19 pandemic spread to Alaska, requiring reduced or suspended service to prevent the spread of the virus.