Alaska’s vanishing, floating highway

A rusting steel walkway roofed with faded plexiglass led to the ferry docked in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Sirens wailed from the container port half a mile away, cutting through the moist air, as an acrid odor rose from the pier’s tar-coated pilings. I stepped out of the chilly late-September night and climbed a labyrinthine staircase to the boat’s passenger lounge, where a dozen people, covered with blankets and sleeping bags, settled in for the six-hour trip. The ventilation system whistled loudly, muffling the ship’s engines, as the M/V Malaspina — a 450-person ferry operated by the state of Alaska — set sail for Ketchikan, Alaska, possibly for the last time. After 56 years, the state had announced it would shut down the route.

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