CHOKEPOINTS

WSF Chief on feasibility of new diesel ferries: ‘There isn’t a ferry dealership down the road’

Jun 18, 2024, 6:11 AM | Updated: 8:12 am

ferries...

Washington State Ferries flying a 12th Man flag to celebrate the Seahawks during the NFL playoffs. (Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Transportation)

(Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Transportation)

The Washington State Ferries (WSF) only have 16 boats running right now, even though a fleet of 26 is considered full service. Getting new boats on the water is essential, so what about the idea of building or buying some diesel boats quickly while we wait for the electric-hybrids?

The quick building of a few new Olympic Class ferries is a campaign talking point in the gubernatorial race. The candidates have all said they would consider the idea if it would get boats on the water faster.

But is this feasible? Can the ferry service just grab the old plans for Olympic Class boats and start welding?

More on Washington State Ferries: Calmer waters ahead for Washington State Ferries?

I had the chance to speak with the head of Washington State Ferries, Steve Nevey, about this who said building diesel boats is not the solution.

“A lot of the manufacturers that are in the machinery space and the integrators are no longer in business,” Nevey said. “We couldn’t just pull an Olympic Class plan off the shelf and say ‘Here you go.’ We’d have to start designing the machinery from scratch, and that would put us back about a year from where we are now, maybe more.”

What about other options? Some people have suggested shopping for used ferries, just to get something on the water.

“There isn’t a ferry dealership down the road,” Nevey joked. “We did a worldwide search to see if there are any ferries that would be compatible. We found one, I think it was somewhere in Scandinavia. We looked at it. It was half built like two decades ago and then they stopped building it. It just wouldn’t have been feasible.”

Most ferry riders probably don’t realize just how unique our ferry boats are. Nevey said it’s hard to find anything compatible.

“Our boats are unique,” he said. “They’re double-ended. They have propellers on both ends. They have pilot houses on both ends so you don’t have to leave the dock and turn, which saves a lot of time. It’s not like all the other ferry operators in the world use the same system and the same docks.”

And fixing the existing Olympic Class boats is not an easy job either. Nevey said that’s why it takes a while to fix something when it goes wrong.

“They’re extremely technical machines, and the parts often are obsolete, some of them were built in the ’50s,” he said. “You can’t just go to a store and pick up a part you need. You need to kind of manufacture them at Eagle Harbor, and it’s a big challenge.”

More from Chris Sullivan: Drivers slow to understand zipper merge, would better signs help?

With the bidding for the five new electric-hybrid ferries now underway, Nevey said the agency is pulling out of the darkness.

“I think we’re on a good path to recovery,” he said. “It’s critical that we get new vessels as quickly as possible, which is my main priority.”

If the bidding goes according to plan, the state might have the two lowest bidders build the boats simultaneously. The target is for the first two to be in the water in 2028. Each boat is expected to cost more than $250 million.

The long-range plan is to have 16 new boats in the fleet by 2040.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as TwitterHead here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.

Chokepoints

I-405 85th Street...

Chris Sullivan

Kirkland to be cut in half this weekend due to I-405/NE 85th Street Interchange

Sound Transit's new Bus Rapid Transit line on I-405 includes a new direct access ramp and bus stop in the middle of the freeway at 85th Street.

5 hours ago

Image: The Easy Fire burns in the North Cascades on Thursday, July 18, 2024....

Bill Kaczaraba

North Cascades Highway near Diablo Lake reopens after wildfire caused closure

A wildfire has forced the closure of State Route 20/the North Cascades Highway west between mileposts 148 and 158.

5 days ago

Image: Red and white reflective stripes are being added to Washington State Department of Transport...

Chris Sullivan

Going green isn’t what you think when it comes to WSDOT safety

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is tired of people plowing into trucks and is taking a green approach.

5 days ago

Photo: Traffic on I-5....

Micki Gamez

Prepare for traffic: Sound Transit to close lane of I-5 south

Washington has two seasons: winter and construction. Sound Transit is going to close one lane on I-5 south.

6 days ago

ballard closures...

Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: Closures are clogging Ballard, and will be for next two months

Getting through Ballard along 15th Avenue Northwest can be hard enough as it is, and that was before the closures.

7 days ago

I-405 multi-car collision...

Frank Sumrall

Multiple lanes on I-405 North closed near Bellevue due to multi-car collision

Multiple lanes on Interstate 405 (I-405) heading north are closed near Coal Creek Parkway after a multi-car collision.

7 days ago

WSF Chief on feasibility of new diesel ferries: ‘There isn’t a ferry dealership down the road’