JUNEAU, Alaska — A $3 million overhaul of the staging area for Juneau’s cruise ship docks is nearly complete and should be ready when the season begins in early May.
The year’s first ship will arrive May 5, with private arrivals coming a few days earlier, the Juneau Empire reported.
The $3 million cruise-ship terminal staging area project reconfigured parking, sidewalks and crosswalks near the two city-owned docks for cruise ships to improve maneuverability for tour buses and safety for tourists. Construction on the project began last fall, a week after the last cruise ship left town.
The improvements are aimed to streamline the cruise-ship unloading process and keep visitors safe. A few close calls over the years — and one incident several years ago when a tourist was hit by a car after stepping off the sidewalk — prompted a reconfiguration of the area.
There is currently a pull-through system for bus pickup of cruise-ship passengers. The new configuration of the parking lot will allow buses to nose into the lot diagonally, CBJ port engineer Erich Schaal said. A secondary lot for smaller tour vehicles will allow for pull-through pickup.
The main lot, which will be able to hold 12 of the full-size buses, will butt up against a walkway where cruise-ship passengers can hang out before loading onto the vehicles. This setup is industry standard these days, Schaal said, and it keeps passengers out of the parking lot, improving the safety of the operation.
“We’re trying to get pedestrians into safe facilities,” he said.
Two-thirds of cruise-ship passengers go through the staging area that is being worked on, Schaal said.
But with changes to the staging area came concerns from Juneau’s tourism industry about equitability, Schaal said. Smaller tour companies worried the new parking configuration would edge them out of the area altogether. Dock and Harbors worked closely with local businesses, through Juneau’s Tourism Best Management Practices group, to find a compromise.
Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and organizer of Tourism Best Management Practices, acted as a go-between for the approximately 60 local companies in talks with Docks and Harbors on the project. The amount of available space, with the staging area essentially squeezed between the mountain and the ocean, was limiting when it came to addressing the worries of tourism companies, Day said.
“We have a very finite amount of space, so we don’t have the amount of space where you can do something perfect that makes every individual operator and user happy,” he said. “So we all kind of got together and decided well, if everybody’s just a little bit unhappy, we’ve accomplished the goal.”
Independent tour companies — ones that aren’t owned by a cruise company — were the most nervous, he said. But the changes to parking will bring the space up to industry standard and improve the flow of traffic downtown “like at the AJ dock and Princess dock.”
Construction on two new $54 million cruise ship berths, capable of accommodating today’s larger, 1,000-foot vessels, will begin in fall 2015. Currently, the two city-owned cruise ship berths cannot accommodate ships larger than 965 feet and 780 feet in length.
The private AJ and Princess docks can already accommodate larger vessels, Day said.
The staging-area project will complete work that has been going on at the site for several years. A city-owned visitor center was built at the site two years ago, and the seawalk was connected to create a continuous path along the water. The entirety of the construction, including the $3 million staging project being completed now and the new cruise ship berths, will cost about $70 million.