The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gov. Gregoire says ferry system is facing a financial crisis

Gregoire Seeks $100 Million for New Ferries; PT-Seattle Run Begins

Associated Press
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Port Townsend-Seattle Run


Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday proposed retiring the state's four oldest ferries and quickly building replacement boats at a cost of about $100 million.

Interim service to the Olympic Peninsula begins soon, starting Thursday with foot-passenger service from Port Townsend to downtown Seattle, and car-ferry service to Whidbey Island next month, the governor announced.

The governor, moving to address a major transportation link that has been disrupted since the aging boats were abruptly removed from service last month, said the state will resume auto service between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island by mid- to late January.

The state will lease one of the Anderson Island ferries operated by Pierce County. Three new replacement vessels will be of similar design and could come online in about a year, presuming the Legislature concurs with Gregoire's plan.

The new boats will carry about 50 vehicles and 325 passengers.

The passenger-only ferry service between Port Townsend and Seattle will run during the holidays, the governor announced.

Gregoire, in comments prepared for a contract-signing and news conference at Todd Shipyards in Seattle, said it makes more sense to build new ferries than to try to restore the 80-year-old Steel Electric class vessels.

The boats were on borrowed time, and when pitting and corrosion were found, the ferry system worried that they were unsafe and withdrew them from service last month. That left the Port Townsend-Keystone run without auto ferry service and hurt the local economy.

Legislative transportation leaders have already concurred that the boats are too old and rickety to repair.

The small ferries are the only ones in the fleet that can navigate the narrow, shallow channel at Keystone on Whidbey Island.

A passenger-only ferry is now serving the run.

Gregoire proposed financing the new small boats by tapping $64 million of the $348 million previously approved for four new 144-car jumbo ferries. She would also redirect $36 million from planned terminal improvements, including the Mukilteo dock. Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine has vowed to fight any such diversion of money.

Matt Nichols, of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders Inc. on Whidbey Island, recently suggested that the state use the same design that Nichols used to build the ferry Steilacoom for Pierce County.

Gregoire also authorized contracts with Todd Shipyards to start designing up to four long-planned large ferries. Todd will be the prime contractor and J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. in Tacoma, and possibly Nichols Brothers, will subcontract.

Four new large boats were authorized in 2001 and financing was secured in 2003. But the procurement process became mired in legal challenges. Gregoire spokesman Lloyd Brown said it's not clear whether all four can be built until the state gets back firm contract cost estimates.

Gregoire said she's interested in both replacing the old boats and expanding overhaul ferry capacity.
Washington runs the nation's largest ferry system, carrying 24 million passengers and 11 million vehicles a year.

In addition to troubles with some of the older vessels, the system has faced chronic money problems and critical state auditsFerry System .

Gregoire concurred with the Department of Transportation's decision to take the four vessels out of operation permanently. They are the Quinault, Klickitat, Illahee and Nisqually, built in the late 1920s. They were believed to be the oldest in the nation still operating in salt water.

The Klickitat and the Illahee were the only ones of the four vessels operating at the time DOT made the decision last month. The ferry system has paid upward of $4 million this year on repairs to the boats, but it finally decided it was a losing cause.

"We no longer believe the hulls are safe," the governor said in prepared comments, adding that, "Damage is significant enough that it simply isn't worth the tax dollars to make repairs.

"We simply had to make the call we did and move forward."

Gregoire said the ferry system is "facing a financial crisis" and that "Washington must find other sustainable and stable sources of funds to support our state's ferry system."

A study group will make its proposals in time for the 2009 legislative session.

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