Washington State Ferries faces investment challenges

Washington State’s transportation system—including Washington State Ferries—faces enormous funding and maintenance challenges. Last year, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire convened the Connecting Washington Task Force in order to create a 10-year plan for maintaining and improving the state’s transportation system, including ferry ridership. Connecting Washington Task Force recommended $21 billion in investments in public transportation.

As a result of convening the task force, the Governor had proposed a number of “fees” (aka “taxes”) that would levied, including a $1.50 fee on oil by barrel to pay for state road construction and environmental projects. As much as $2.75 billion would be raised over a 10-year period.

During her State of the Stet address in January, Governor Gregoire told legislators, “Our oil companies are getting all the profit and leaving us with the bill,” Gregoire said. “We can do better. We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them. We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make. This is our year to act and approve a jobs package and invest in our future.”

Still the new barrel fee didn’t sit to well with state legislators. So when the state’s House Transportation Committee released the $9.8 billion 2012 Supplemental Transportation budget on Feb. 16, it does not address the financial crisis facing the ferry system beginning in the 2013-2015 biennium. That decision was put off until the 2013 session.

Instead, the budget will enable Washington State Ferry to continue its current level of service through the end of this biennium on June 30, 2013. It also begins funding for the second 144-car ferry for WSF.

Without funding for maintenance, the governor says, as many as five WSF routes would have to be eliminated and service reduced on two others.

Right now, WSF carries 22.3 million passengers annually, operating 22 vessels and 19 terminals.

Meanwhile, Vigor Shipyards recently started welding steel for the first hull module of the first new 144-car ferry. Construction is scheduled for completion in early 2014.

 

February 20, 2012