State moves ahead with replacement of Tustumena

The state has other plans for updating the marine highway.

The state will go forward with a plan to replace the MV Tustumena in the next five years and make other improvements to the infrastructure of the Alaska Marine Highway System, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Saturday in a news conference.

The vessel, commissioned in 1964, has far exceeded its expected service life, Dunleavy said during the news conference in Kodiak, which the Tustumena serves.

“The Tusty has been plying rough seas for nearly 60 years and is approaching the end of its service life. Annual repairs for the vessel now reach $2 million,” Dunleavy said. “I’ve asked DOT to replace this key piece of infrastructure to ensure connectivity for our coastal communities for another 50 years.”

Ryan Anderson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, also spoke during the conference, elaborating on the design and replacement process of the Tustumena and other changes for the AMHS system.

“Building a new ship is a great endeavour and it’s one DOT takes very seriously. The AMHS has been connecting Kodiak for nearly 60 years now,” Anderson said. “We have a design for the vessel right now. It’ll be a larger vessel that has increased capacity for passengers and vehicles.”

The projected cost of the vessel is about $200-250 million, Anderson said, which will be funded with federal infrastructure funding. The Tustumena will go in for overhaul in Seward in January, Anderson said, as the state intends to keep the vessel in service for the five years it’ll take for the replacement vessel to be commissioned. The overhaul is expected to cost $8 million, Anderson said.

“The new vessel will make the fleet more resilient and responsive to the needs of coastal communities — through more passenger and vehicle space, but also more fuel-efficient engines, diesel and electric propulsion systems and an efficient design to move through the water easily,” Anderson said in a news release. “It will be built to serve coastal communities throughout our system, allowing flexibility to move our ships around during annual lay-ups.”

Other changes for the AMHS are also in the works, according to the commissioner. The MV Hubbard is undergoing a $16 million refit to retrofit crew quarters, giving it more range and flexibility. The AMHS is also working to provide a backup for the MV LeConte when it’s in overhaul, Anderson said. The state is also seeking to hire more workers for the AMHS.

“We’re going to have to take a look at what’s causing individuals to not apply — if it’s wages, or working conditions, or some other phenomena, which appears to be across all sectors, across states,” Dunleavy said, when asked if the state was considering increasing wages to incentivize new workers.

The new ship is expected to begin service in 2027, Anderson said, and the state is expected to work with contractors to finalize the design beginning in January.

“We’ll get a boat we can all be proud of,” Dunleavy said. “And it’ll be part of a Marine Highway System that’s sustainable and reliable.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or