Monday, November 30, 2015

For the Alaska Ferry, Everything Old ... is new Again!

Transportation items
claimed a key spot in the
Hays 2.0 plan last week

(from City of PR website)
Last week the City introduced its forward looking blue print Hays 2.0,  highlighting some of the key developments of the future that City Council sees for Prince Rupert heading towards the year 2030.

The project which has been advertised in full over the last five days, offers up a number of interesting themes for Prince Rupert residents to consider, though some may think that perhaps a few of the items are a little out of the scope of a municipal government.

Areas such as trade through the Northwest Passage, or some form of civic role when it comes to an International Affairs approach to Alaska/Canadian relations and trade issues related to the state to the north of us.

While fascinating topics for discussion over a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, we're not quite sold that there's a need for the City to worry itself about issues that perhaps are more suited to senior levels of government.

More importantly, we wonder whether those lofty issues resonate much with the city's residents and taxpayers, who for the most part probably just  want to see the roads paved and maybe have their ever increasing tax load reduced.

The Alaska Marine Highway System
was a key component of the
Hays 2.0 project release last week
However, one item which has a more direct impact on Prince Rupert and one worth a bit of a look, is through the Hays 2.0  focus when it comes to the State of Alaska's Transportation system and a possible shift of ports to Lax Kw'alaams.

That is a theme is that has just a bit of history to it, having been mentioned  any number of times in the past and capturing the imagination every time.

The concept of using Lax Kw'alaams as a port of entry, has been a recurring theme over the decades, mentioned by Alaska state planners, and followed up by a list of Prince Rupert Mayors since the days of Peter Lester.

A Juneau Empire article from 2000 notes some of that frequent attention,  reviewing then Mayor Don Scott's concepts during his term of office of at the time. Included in that review was Mr. Scott's plan featuring the use of two bridges to provide links, one to Metlakatla from Digby Island and the other providing access to Digby Island to Prince Rupert.

Six years later Mayor Herb Pond was touting the prospect of the Gateway Shuttle, a transportation plan which would again connect Ketchikan with Lax Kw'alaams shaving travel time on the water and replacing it with more time on the highway.

Once again, the main focus of some of those discussion was Mayor Pond's ongoing interest in securing a Fixed link to the Digby Island airport area.

Earlier this year Mayor Brain himself even revisited the prospect of Lax Kw'alaams as a port entry north of Prince Rupert for the AMHS.

Making it part of his presentation during a visit to the Alaska capital on March 17th, providing some background for a state Transportation committee on the plans that he had in mind for the North Coast.

And while we prepare to dust off the blue prints once again to the many proposed connectors north and west, there are a few things for the City to keep in mind when it comes to the current situation for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The first, the nature of the fifty year lease negotiated in 2014 between the State of Alaska and Canada and how that may affect the discussion, as well as what kind of an impact moving the terminal that far from the city might have on the local Prince Rupert economy.

When it comes to the AMHS service to and from Prince Rupert, those that regularly check our Transportation archive page will have made note of some of the growing challenges that the Alaskans are facing these days.

At the moment, the two that have the most impact on Prince Rupert involve the still stalled status of their Fairview Terminal rebuild, a story now one year old and one which has yet to find any form of resolution.

The other major issue involves the current state of the oil revenue dependent Alaska economy which is playing havoc with their state Transportation planning.

When it comes to the latter, it's an issue that Prince Rupert, nor British Columbia or Canada has any control over, like the Americans, the decline in resource revenues could have impacts of their own on many plans from all levels of government south of the A/B line.

However, the Terminal rebuild project is something that the City could help return to the front burner.

Perhaps by way of the City once again engaging the Federal representative Nathan Cullen and North Coast  MLA  Jennifer Rice in the issue, seeking their assistance to find a solution to the ongoing controversy and finally at least moving that vital infrastructure project forward.

Yes, that's kind of a short term plan and not the thing of a fifteen or twenty year vision, but it at least is an attainable goal, one that would serve to resolve an ongoing irritant and deliver a result which would have an immediate impact on the region.

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