THE ALASKA MARINE HIGHWAY
Unique to Alaska is the long-route ferry service provided by the state, the Alaska Marine Highway. Residents of the little towns served by the Highway see nothing strange about its name. To them it is the only surface transportation out of their communities. The $30 million deficit experienced by the Highway each year is looked upon by those served as an expense to be borne by the state the same as paid for road construction and maintenance. A fleet of nine large ferryliners, each costing about $50 million, transports passengers and vehicles within Southeast Alaska and within certain portions of Central and Southwest Alaska. The system also connects Southeast Alaska with Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and with Seattle, Washington. Ferry terminals are interconnected by computer.
Almost 300,000 passengers and 70,000 vehicles travel the highways along twenty-seven hundred miles of coastline each year. Most of the ferries are huge, carrying about five hundred passengers and 110 cars. Staterooms, lounges, solaria, and cafeterias make them like a cruise ship minus the hoopla and continuous entertainment. The food served is solid fare, the menus put together by the head cook on duty. Food prices are high by lower-forty-eight standards. Ferry fares are reasonable and are reduced by 25 percent between October 1 and May 15. Persons over sixty-five, Alaskan or not, can ride free during this off season. Of all visitors to Alaska 10 to 12 percent come by ferry. Attesting to the popularity of the system is the fact that reservations for the summer season must be received before January.
A jet foil is scheduled for appearance in the Inland Passage, the area used by the ferries. The jet foil, traveling at fifty knots, will be on trial and can reduce the eighteen-hour travel time between Ketchikan and Juneau by two-thirds.
Move away from the coast into Central Alaska and winter temperatures drop into the minus forty-degree range.