Murkowski Co-Sponsors Bill To Improve Alaska Marine Highway

Bi-partisan, Bi-cameral “U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act” Boosts Investment Nationwide

Washington, D.C.– Senator Lisa Murkowski today joined Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA 2nd), to introduce a bi-partisan bill in both houses of Congress that would improve and expand federal investment in ferries, a vital part of America’s transportation system. More than 100 million passengers take ferries every year in at least 38 states, often between work and home. The transportation services offered by ferries are critical to communities across the country, and their regional economies. However, according to the Department of Transportation, one fourth of ferry systems are 40 years or older and five percent are 60 years or older. The U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act works to improve this aging fleet, and the ferry infrastructure as a whole.

“In Alaska, our ferry system is not an alternative route – it’s a primary method of transportation,” said Murkowski. “The Alaska Marine Highway system totals more miles than the distance from Seattle to Miami. This bill is an economic engine and improves our way of life, from Dutch Harbor to Metlakatla.”

The Act would invest $200 million a year in funding for ferry systems across the country starting in Fiscal Year 2012, and running through Fiscal Year 2018. The funding would be divided into two parts. Half of the money ($100 million a year) would be distributed according to a formula that takes into account straightforward factors such as how many passengers use the ferry system each year, how many vehicles are carried, and how many total miles the routes contain.  The other half ($100 million a year) would be distributed at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation using a competitive process.

The bill also includes the following additional ways to strengthen ferry systems across the country:

  • Makes ferry systems eligible to compete for funding under the Clean Fuels Grant Program.
  • Establishes a Ferry Joint Program Office within U.S. DOT to coordinate federal programs (DHS, etc.) affecting ferry and ferry facility construction, maintenance, operations and security, and to promote ferry transportation as a component of the U.S. transportation system. 
  • Requires U.S. DOT to ensure the National Ferry Database is consistent with the database maintained by the Federal Transit Administration.
  • Authorizes funding to establish a National Ferry Transportation Institute at a college or university. The institute is directed to conduct research, training, and develop models and recommendations to improve the operation and safety of ferry systems in the U.S.