Community Perspective

Alaska ferry system panel will be open in its work

As the governor’s Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group gets underway, our directive is clear: chart a sustainable, long-term path that delivers the transportation services our coastal communities need with the reliability, safety and efficiency that all Alaskans deserve.

As group chair, I am fortunate to share this endeavor with experienced and talented individuals representing a wide swath of Alaska perspectives. While I won’t speak for my teammates, I know that each is committed to delivering a work product that positions the system for future success. We want a marine highway system that all Alaskans can take pride in as a model of service delivery and efficiency.

We know the system is critical to Alaska’s economic and social well-being. AMHS delivers services across 3,500 miles — a distance 200 miles further than a trip from Miami to Seattle. Ferries are used by Alaskans and Alaska businesses throughout the Panhandle across Prince William Sound, to Kodiak and out the Aleutian Chain. Even those moving to or from Anchorage and the Interior sometimes rely on ferry passage to transport belongings, vehicles and pets from the mainland to Alaska.

As we begin our work, I want to be transparent about our approach. No outcome has been prejudged. We will carefully review the extensive analysis that was recently completed along with previous research. Our goal is to thoroughly understand asset condition, maintenance, operations, the economics of the present system and the needs of our communities. We will then fashion holistic and practical long-term transportation options for the governor and Legislature.

Every meeting will be open to the public. We expect to hold in-person sessions across coastal Alaska, consult with Alaska Native tribes and build on the knowledge of local leaders. Please understand that in-person gatherings may be tempered a bit in the near term as the state manages the COVID-19 risk.

I’d like to leave you with a few personal perspectives. First, this problem didn’t develop overnight. We are starting where we are; there is little gained by criticizing past decisions, which may well have been the best available choice at some earlier point in time.

Second, I have great respect for the people on the front line of any operational organization — in this case, skilled mariners, mechanics and others who operate and maintain our ferries and shore facilities. We will solicit their expertise and consider all solutions.

We will also focus on governance and financial issues, but as the expression goes, “No easy money comes from the sea.” Alaska waters can be very tough.

Third, changes — even fundamental ones — are likely needed for improvement to occur. We can’t be afraid of them. In my roles overseeing federal transportation agencies, leading the Coast Guard in Alaska and more recently the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, one learns that status quo thinking won’t get you where you need to go in the long term. Perhaps counterintuitively, a prudent focus on efficiency often enables better performance and more reliable service.

Long-term plans that lack agility get jettisoned to address short-term needs. I know broad support will be needed for Alaska to maintain marine highway services we can all be proud of. I appreciate the governor’s trust and I applaud every member of our work group for their commitment to moving Alaska forward.

We will listen, we will work diligently and transparently, and I am confident we can deliver a sustainable path forward that works for Alaska.

Tom Barrett is chairman of the Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group. He previously led the Coast Guard’s Alaskan operations and retired as the longest-serving president of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.


The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at Contact the editor with questions at or call 459-7574.

Community Perspective

Send Community Perspective submissions by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707) or via email ( Submissions must be 500 to 750 words. Columns are welcome on a wide range of issues and should be well-written and well-researched with attribution of sources. Include a full name, email address, daytime telephone number and headshot photograph suitable for publication (email jpg or tiff files at 150 dpi.) You may also schedule a photo to be taken at the News-Miner office. The News-Miner reserves the right to edit submissions or to reject those of poor quality or taste without consulting the writer.

Letters to the editor

Send letters to the editor by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707), by fax (907-452-7917) or via email ( Writers are limited to one letter every two weeks (14 days.) All letters must contain no more than 350 words and include a full name (no abbreviation), daytime and evening phone numbers and physical address. (If no phone, then provide a mailing address or email address.) The Daily News-Miner reserves the right to edit or reject letters without consulting the writer.

Submit your news & photos

Let us know what you're seeing and hearing around the community.