New state law could speed up construction of Washington ferries

May 31, 2023, 6:46 AM

ferries next...

Project engineer Dave Sowers said it's time to start ramping up the next item on a long list of upcoming ferry system improvements. (Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

It was a rocky start to the summer travel season for hundreds of passengers.

They were stranded when two ferries were taken out of service over Memorial Day weekend because of mechanical issues and a lack of crew.

The state set aside about $1 billion to build five new ferries. But that plan ran aground because they couldn’t make a deal with a local shipbuilder. So, the state legislature took steps this year to get the new ferry construction up and running.

But it could hardly have come at a worse time.

The 43-year-old Kitsap Ferry succumbed to mechanical problems over this busy Memorial Day weekend, reducing the Mukilteo to Clinton run to just one boat for five long hours.

“Well, they are very old,” said Joyce, from Whidbey Island. “And yes, we should update them.”

Tacoma State Representative Jake Fey led the push last legislative session to open up the bidding process to build a new vessel, creating a lane for shipbuilders from across the country to build at least some of the vessels.

“And we’ve left room in there for some good flexibility in terms of being able to have two ferries, two contractors working on ferries,” said Representative Fey. “Some shipyards are quite large and they can actually build a couple of boats, sort of simultaneously.”

And Rep. Fey says they are also considering getting some lease-to-own vessels. That could certainly speed up the progress. After all, it takes two to three years to build a new ferry.

The ferries can’t come soon enough for those who rely on them to get around.

“I got here 45 minutes early for the 9:30 p.m. sailing back to San Juan Island,” said Dave Mountford, a trucker. “That sailing was canceled.”

Washington State Ferries says the reason for that cancelation was a lack of crew, something Representative Fey says the state is also working on.

So, it likely won’t be smooth sailing for the ferry system until there are newer boats and more crew members to staff them.

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New state law could speed up construction of Washington ferries