Revisiting a Report: Alternative Approaches to the Alaska Marine Highway System

The state-owned Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) provides ferry transportation to 35 Alaskan coastal communities, contributing to the economic and social well-being of those communities. Unfortunately, it is a huge drain on the state budget and can be unreliable for the populations it serves. Over the years, recommendations have been made by various groups to make AMHS more efficient and economical for the state. Alaska Policy Forum (APF) examined some of those recommendations and offered our own ideas as well.

Alaska spends a large amount of state general funds on AMHS — in Fiscal Year 2021, state appropriations for AMHS were over $100 million. The highest state appropriations for AMHS in the last decade were in FY13, at over $163 million.

Yet the economic activity in Alaska resulting from AMHS is not to be ignored. In fact, while there is no hard data about the economic impact of all transportation infrastructure in Alaska, it is safe to assume that alternatives to AMHS that replace or work in concert with it would also create jobs, wages for Alaskans, and additional economic activity. Thus, it is important to make AMHS more sustainable and less reliant on state funds, as well as explore other transportation infrastructure that could connect Alaskans.

APF’s report on AMHS includes solutions such as:

  • Restructure AMHS into a public corporation
  • Restructure the route system
  • Stabilize funding by allowing a three or five-year rolling budget
  • Encourage communities to contract with the private sector to fill in service gaps
  • Repeal both the Jones Act and the Passenger Vehicle Services Act

APF’s full report on alternative approaches to the Alaska Marine Highway System can be found here.