Mayfield: The Washington state ferry system needs to be saved

Nov 30, 2023, 11:25 AM | Updated: Mar 25, 2024, 1:47 pm

ferry outage...

Islanders for Ferry Action, a community organization based on Vashon Island, said that small businesses are struggling to make ends meet because of the frequent delays and outages with the ferry system to the island. (Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

Washington State Ferries — the largest public ferry system in the entire world — is sinking fast, and our friends and neighbors are drowning.

This is slowly strangling our island community, according to Amy Dreier with the Islanders for Ferry Action on Vashon Island via Micki Gamez. In short, for our islands and the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula, ferries are our highways. Those highways used to have a few potholes and maybe a blocked exit ramp occasionally, but today, they are unmaintained and washed out like service roads deep in the wilderness.

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They are on the map, but good luck using them. Lawmakers who represent us in Olympia and in Washington D.C. must take immediate action.

We had Bremerton State Senator Emily Randall (D) on Seattle’s Morning News this week. She’s a Democrat, and she’s running for Congress. We asked her bluntly, what’s her plan?

“I think we definitely need federal funding to help support new construction of vessels. We’ve poured a ton of money in Washington state. We need federal investments to allow us to build faster,” Randall said.

Federal funding equals federal investment. Senator Randall is right. Why isn’t every single member of the Washington delegation lined up outside Pete Buttigieg’s Secretary of Transportation office, sleeping on the floor as if they are waiting to get Taylor Swift tickets?

Buttigieg is out there. He’s touring the U.S. He’s handing out these giant checks. I’ve seen him on Instagram. He looks like Publishers Clearing House showing up in neighborhoods.

Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Derek Kilmer — get your Sharpie out. Write some more zeros on some of those checks and force Pete’s hand.

Olympia, you’re not off the hook either. Get over your trepidation and immediately open up ferry bidding construction maintenance to all bidders around the globe.

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I know, you want to protect Washington jobs. That’s admirable. But look, the truth is the local shipyard doesn’t even really want our business. They like the fat military contracts it gets in near-record numbers. They build good boats fast and they can make them electric in a lot of places outside the U.S.

And while we’re focused on Olympia — Democrats, I’m sorry, but you got to stand up to the Public Service unions and make it easier to get a job on ferries. Too many of our actual boats — the few of them that are running — don’t have enough crew.

Overhaul that system, recruit nationally with salaries and benefits, get training programs at community and tech colleges. Make it happen in high school if you need to. Train them now, get them working with pay immediately. This on-call for months before you even get hired full-time garbage has got to go.

And I’m not saying all of this solves everything overnight. But you know what? It does eventually make a difference and it’s faster than what we’re doing now.

Finally, we don’t need to invent all of this out of whole cloth. British Columbia has an enviable ferry system. Governor Inslee, pick up your phone, call Victoria, and take some notes. I’m tired of this mess.

One of the largest public ferry services in the entire world is sinking. And our friends and neighbors are drowning. This is no longer a drill. Save them.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Mayfield: The Washington state ferry system needs to be saved