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.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Our Ferries are in bad shape; 16 of 28 need repairs

Corrosion in the State Ferry System
Policy Highlighter 1/31/08

By Bob Williams

The Washington State Ferry (WSF) system knows it has a big problem. More than half of its fleet is manning the lifeboats, just in case.

No fewer than sixteen of the state’s 28 ferries are in drydock, or will be soon, for emergency repairs to address safety concerns. One of them, the Yakima, is being inspected every four hours until drydock space opens up for needed repairs. So grave are some problems within the system that the Department of Transportation has inquired about repair facilities in Portland. How the ferries would get there is in question. If they are dangerous to operate in the Puget Sound, we wonder how they would stand up in the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, all of this comes in the wake of the state’s original Titanics (the four steel-electric ferries that served the Port Townsend-Keystone run) being retired for safety reasons right before Thanksgiving, 2007. Since then, serious problems have been discovered on a number of other vessels including ships where as much as 80 percent of the hull has eroded away.

The following is a summary status of WSF troubled vessels:

Steel Electric Ferries




Permanently pulled out of service on Nov. 20, 2007


Permanently pulled out of service on Nov. 20, 2007


Permanently pulled out of service on Nov. 20, 2007


Permanently pulled out of service on Nov. 20, 2007

Car & Passenger Ferries


Status (Capacity)


In drydock at Todd Shipyard until the end of Feb. (124 cars)


On standby. Was supposed to be sold on eBay, but sale canceled due to steel electrics being permanently pulled out of service. (passenger only)


In drydock at Dakota Creek until Feb. 6. Developed a leak near its keel and inspectors found 80-90% of parts of its hull had corroded away. This ferry might be needed as a Pierce County backup ferry while WSF leases the Steilacoom II. (34 cars and 200 passengers)


In drydock at Dakota Creek. Significant corrosion had eaten away as much as 75% of parts of the hull. (144 cars)

Evergreen State

Will be drydocked at an unannounced date for repairs and possible engine replacement. Needs steel repaired or replaced on hull by May 1. (87 cars and 983 passengers)


Will go to dry dock in mid-April with no known return date. Needs steel repaired or replaced on hull by May 1. (144 cars)


Went to Todd Shipyard on Jan. 14 and will be there until repairs are completed. (48 cars)


Will be drydocked in late Feb. for an unannounced period. (90 cars)


Will be drydocked at the end of Jan. or vessel must go out of service. Needs steel repaired or replaced on hull. No replacement boat has been designated. (188 cars)


Will go to drydock in mid-April until the end of May. Needs steel repaired or replaced on hull by May 1. (87 cars)


In maintenance in Eagle Harbor and will be drydocked in late Feb. for an unannounced period. (202 cars)


Transferred from Anacortes/SJI run to Bremerton/Seattle so it could be inspected every 4 hours. Needs steel repaired or replaced on hull by May 1. (144 cars)

This litany raises serious questions about WSF management and policy that demands legislative attention. Unfortunately, we are seeing precious little in the way of public action. The chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, has determined that no public hearings are necessary. She is quoted in the Everett Herald (January 11, 2008) as saying:

“I think there’s been incompetence, no question about it. Has there been fraud? No. We know bad decisions were made. I don’t think there was criminal behavior or deliberate action to mislead us.”

There has been an historical trend of both the Senate and House Transportation Committees failing to address the root problems identified in 40 WSF audits and whistleblower complaints over the last two decades.

How can legislators improve the ferry system if they are kept in the dark about the actual conditions of the ferries and refuse, over a period of years, to exercise their oversight responsibilities? Obviously, they can’t.

And that is how we find ourselves in this position.

Bob Williams is the president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a public policy organization in Olympia, Washington, dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty. He is known as a national expert in the areas of fiscal and tax policies, election reform and disaster preparedness. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Pennsylvania State University. Bob worked as a GAO auditor of the Pentagon and Post Office before moving to Washington state where he served five terms in the Washington state legislature and was the 1988 Republican nominee for governor.

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