New ferry boats in Washington at least four years away

Dec 7, 2023, 2:07 PM | Updated: 3:13 pm

Photo: A Washington State ferry pulls up to the dock on March 29, 2020 in Edmonds, Washington....

It's been a tough Memorial Day weekend for those using Washington ferries as many travelers have been faced with cancellations. (Photo: Karen Ducey, Getty Images)

(Photo: Karen Ducey, Getty Images)

After the last attempt to build five new electric hybrid boats fell through, the state is about the start the bidding process again.

The first of five new hybrid ferries was supposed to roll off the line in 2022, but the contract with long-time ferry builder Vigor, previously Todd Shipyard, fell through.

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Why? The bid to build the boats was double what the state expected. The contract was nixed, and here we are today running a ferry system held together by chewing gum and good intentions.  To say it’s a crisis is an understatement.

The ferry system is about to put out the bid for these five boats again. It should go live in the spring, but the ferries put out guidelines for potential bidders on Wednesday.  It says it will conduct a nationwide search for bidders, now that the legislature has allowed the ferry system to look outside the state for builders.  The Seattle Times reports up to 14 potential suitors from Washington, Oregon, California and the Gulf States.

It says any boats built outside of Washington must be transported to Bainbridge Island on another ship or barge. The sea trials must be conducted here.  There are credits for bidders who do any of their work in Washington, and there are other requirements. The goal is to have a contractor by the summer and for the first boat to be delivered in 2028.

That’s four or more years before the first new boat is on the water. The question now is whether the ferry system can hold together that long.

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There are 21 boats in the fleet. Only nine are considered in good condition. It takes 19 boats to run the full schedule.  We have been hanging around 13-to-15 boats in service at times this year.

Another boat had to be taken out of service yesterday for inspection after a hard landing in Southworth.

It looks like heavy seas for ferry riders for a few more years.

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New ferry boats in Washington at least four years away