It’s official: The Tustumena state ferry is finally being replaced

A state ferry on the water at dusk.
The M/V Tustumena pulls away from Kodiak on Jan. 11, 2020. (Kavitha George/KMXT)

It’s official: The Tustumena state ferry is finally being replaced.

The project, totaling at least $200 million, was announced this month by Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a visit to Kodiak.

“We’re going to be directing the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to move forward with replacing the Tustumena that has served Alaska and has been homeport here in Kodiak since 1964,” Dunleavy said.

A new ferry will have to be built, and it likely won’t be on the water until 2027. The new ferry will run along the Tustumena’s current route from Homer to Kodiak and out the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor.

Dunleavy said the new ferry will be larger — increasing its passenger capacity to 250 people plus crew. It will also have deck space for 18 more vehicles for a total of 52 cars and trucks.

If it’s completed on time, it will be replacing a vessel that’s 62 years old.

The Tustumena’s replacement has been a years-old political project in coastal Alaska. Decades of braving some of the fiercest seas in U.S. coastal waters have taken their toll, and the vessel requires frequent maintenance, costing at least $2 million every year. Dunleavy also announced an $8 million upgrade just to keep it running until the new ferry is ready.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said the replacement is good news.

“Anybody that knows me knows that the marine highway has been one of my major focuses because it’s just so important to rural coastal Alaskans. And I just want to, again, give the governor and his administration a big thank you, for hearing us. He heard Alaskans, he heard Kodiakans, he heard people saying, ‘This is important to us,” Stutes said.

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The current estimate for the total cost of the new ferry is between $200 and $250 million, according to state transportation department. That will be paid over a five-year period, using regular federal infrastructure dollars that are also used for highways and bridges. The federal pot of money has grown considerably after President Biden signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill Nov. 15, said the transportation department.

Per state law, the new ferry will be named for an Alaska glacier, with the name selected through an essay contest for Alaska students.

The project hasn’t been put out to bid, and it’s not yet known where the new ferry will be built.

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