Citizen Ferry Group Has More Work To Do

The Citizens Write Plan C ferry group hasn’t gone away.
Formed to develop a third long-range plan for Washington State Ferries from people underwhelmed by the agency’s plans A and B, the citizens work group enjoyed some successes during the 2009 legislative session. But there’s still much to be done.
The group has scheduled a strategy meeting to discuss issues its members say need to be addressed before the next session. It will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton.
The group helped to keep service from being cut, to hold fare increases in check and to get money for new boats. But it disagrees about which boats to build.
The Senate wanted four 64-car ferries, the House and WSF preferred three 64s and two 144s, and the Plan C group said no 64-car boats were needed and to get started right away on 144s. It sought to convert two old 87-car ferries to work on the Port Townsend-Keyport route instead of new 64s, but ferries director David Moseley said that had already been studied and rejected.
The 2009-2011 transportation budget pays for two 64-car ferries in addition to one that’s already being built. The fourth, depending on how much money remains, will carry either 64 or 144 vehicles, and the budget begins funding for a 144-car ferry. The first boat would be delivered in 2010, with one added each of the following three years. At the earliest, a 144-car ferry would arrive in 2013.
That’s not soon enough, according to the group.
The state’s law that ferries have to be built in Washington precludes them from getting federal funds, but stimulus money might cover terminal work that’s already budgeted and the state money could slide to ferry-building, said Kari Ulatoski, a Plan C member and Vashon Island commuter.
“The message is loud and clear,” she said. “We have no backup ferries on the major routes. One 144-car ferry would take the pressure off of having to deprive one route of something when another route needs it.
“That’s why it’s really our job as members of our ferry communities to try to convey to the legislators the absolute importance that additional 144 has to these communities.”
Rep. Larry Seaquist, who spearheaded the group, said the ferry system needs about $9 million by fall to pay for the final design of the 144-car ferry if construction is to begin right after the third 64-car boat is finished. That’s where the juggling of stimulus funds and state money might come into play.
The second key issue for the Plan C group locking up some participation in the fare process and other decisions, Seaquist said. They call that the ferry community advisory council.
And the elephant in the room, Ulatoski said, is a permanent source of stable funding that’s been missing since 2000.
She said the ferry system is directed by the legislature and governor “and we need to not make them the whipping boy for issues that need to be resolved outside of their purview, whether you’re talking about fare increases or what boats to build. I think they are in agreement with us.”