Alaska ferries add January sailings after lawmakers scramble to plan travel ahead of session

A boat near a dock.
The MV Malaspina sits at the dock in Auke Bay, near Juneau, as the MV LeConte pulls away from in 2019. Both ships are part of the Alaska Marine Highway System. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Some Alaska lawmakers and aides who normally take a ferry to Juneau for the legislative session found themselves scrambling to make alternative travel plans last week after finding out that the Matanuska state ferry would not be back in service before the new year, as originally planned. 

Late last week, the Alaska Marine Highway System had no sailings from Haines to Juneau for January. The ferry system is how many legislators get themselves and their vehicles to Juneau for the session.

Over the weekend, though, new trips were added for other state ferries — the LeConte and Kennicott. Everyone who had planned to go from Haines to Juneau was rebooked. 

Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, is among the legislators who drive to Haines each winter and then ferry to Juneau.

Josephson said he changed his plans after last week’s announcement of delayed repairs to the Matanuska. He’ll now ship his car from Whittier and fly to Juneau. He said he’ll miss his annual routine.

“I’m not one who’s objected to having to do it that way, and make the drive through the Yukon and British Columbia,” he said. “I got some satisfaction out of it.”

Juneau Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl said the ferry system should be prepared to avoid situations like what happened last week. He said he appreciates that the system rebooked passengers for other trips, but it’s too late for those who scrambled to make alternative travel plans. 

“That is a good adjustment,” he said. “Now, it’s cold comfort if you’re a citizen who bought all their plane tickets and hotels and now has to change all their reservations and stay extra nights somewhere.”

The first day of the legislative session is scheduled for Jan. 18. 

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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