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Federal OK concept for the new ferry terminal at the end of Juneau Road

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Goldbelt Inc. commissioned this concept drawing of a ferry terminal at Cascade Point, which was included in the meeting package for a July 2022 meeting of the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board. (Courtesy of Turnagain Marine Construction)


State transportation officials have taken a small step toward building a new ferry terminal at the end of Juneau Road. It aims to shorten travel times and improve service between Juneau, Haines, Skagway and the highway system.

Federal officials approved a far-reaching amendment earlier this month at Statewide Transportation Infrastructure Program, or STIP. Among the dozens of new projects on the list is a $30 million appeal for the new ferry terminal, but without a specific timeline.

Projects on the STIP list are not guaranteed by federal transportation funding, but this is one path that can lead to it. A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration said the Cascade Point project is only “illustrative” at this stage and is not yet eligible for funding.

Goldbelt Inc., the Urban Aboriginal Society of Juneau, owns the undeveloped land at Cascade Point. By sea, it is approximately 23 miles closer to Haines and Skagway than the existing Juneau ferry terminal at Auke Bay. Goldbelt and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Facilities signed an agreement in 2021 work together on the idea of ​​a new ferry terminal.

“We worked together to try to reach an agreement to develop this area. We are still, still in a process of establishing the feasibility…trying to establish this funding mechanism and who does what,” said Rob Carpenter, the state’s deputy transportation commissioner. “We have a potential vision of a long-term lease with Cascade Point, where Goldbelt Corporation would build it, and we would lease it (to) them in some sort of long-term period.”

The shortest ferry ride should reduce system operating expenses, reduce fares and shorten travel time, even after taking into account the additional driving time. It also means the crew could complete a full circuit between Juneau, Skagway and Haines without breaking a Coast Guard rule limiting shifts to 12 hours.

The concept of the new terminal is spartan and it would not replace the Auke Bay terminal. It requires an unmanned daytime facility with off-grid support infrastructure: outhouses, storage tanks for drinking water and to drain sewage from ferries, and a generator for electricity.

Goldbelt CEO McHugh Pierre said improving this link will have wider ripple effects on the average shareholder and on Juneau as a whole.

“Then we could have lower cost transportation, which would lower the cost of goods, which would lower the cost of services and the cost of living in Juneau,” Pierre said. “Not to mention fresher produce, you know, better produce and overall better quality of life.”

Additional on-site facilities could also improve Goldbelt’s shuttle service for Kensington mine workers.

The new ferry terminal concept has its skeptics and detractors. Like local civil engineer Rich Moniak, who doubted many of the assumptions and expectations a July column in The Juneau Empire. He wondered if cheaper fares and shorter trips would translate into greater demand, and he questioned Goldbelt’s claims about lowering the cost of living in Juneau.

Aaron Brakel is part of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which values ​​the surrounding Berners Bay for its wildlife and pristine beauty.

“Cascade Point is a terrible project for Juneau,” he said. “It’s bad for Haines, it’s bad for Skagway.”

He said it would be a logistical nightmare getting people to and from the end of the road, although Goldbelt said it would provide a bus service.

Brakel said additional shipping traffic in the area could also threaten herring races in Berners Bay.

However, Brakel said he was very supportive of the ferry system’s interest in building an electric ferry. Earlier this year, the state applied for a federal grant looking for $46 million to build one that would work on short hauls — especially between Haines and Skagway, Homer and Seldovia, or Ketchikan and Metlakatla.

If an electric ferry ran regularly between Haines and Skagway, Brakel said a ferry from Juneau wouldn’t need to go to both communities in one day.

“It would really solve that daytime problem from Juneau to North-Lynn-Canal in a much better way,” Brakel said. “Auke Bay in Haines, perfect. You know, no other reversals are necessary. This is a very good solution in my opinion.

Even though the ferry terminal does not exist, Cascade Point and other lands around Echo Cove are marked in Juneau Long Term Land Use Plan for development possibly with a mix of residential, recreational and water related uses.

Historically, local officials in Juneau have supported development efforts there. In 1998, the Juneau Assembly supported the extension of the road at Pointe des Cascades. And in 2013, the mayor attended the inauguration of the new section of road.

In addition to the Cascade Point Ferry Terminal, the STIP list now has many other projects addressing known issues with the ferry system – such as replacing the two oldest ferries in the system, the Matanuska and the Tustumena, and improvements to ferry terminals around the state to accommodate the newer ferries of the state, the Hubbard and the Tazlina.

The Tazlina is also on the list to be modified to have crew quarters. It’s already underway with the Hubbard. Without crew quarters, Coast Guard rules regarding crew rest severely limit the routes these vessels can take.

“We’re looking at all kinds of different funding sources, especially the grants available through the infrastructure bill that just passed Congress,” said Carpenter, of the state Department of Transportation. “In order to receive this grant, much of it must be detailed in the STIP. So we added things in there that we knew we wanted to do. And how we will end up financing them in the end remains to be determined.