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Governor Gregoire signs legislation authorizing new ferry construction

For Immediate Release: February 14, 2008

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed legislation authorizing construction for up to three new car ferries for communities served by the Washington State Ferry system. These new ferries would carry up to 100 vehicles per trip.

The first of the boats authorized by Senate Bill 6794 is scheduled for delivery in 14 months. The three boats will join the three 144-car boats that are in the process of being designed. The design and construction of six boats nearly simultaneously is unprecedented for the state’s ferry system.

“Today we take a significant step forward in securing the safety of the ferry system for future generations,” Gregoire said. “I requested this legislation to allow the state Department of Transportation to quickly begin building new boats to serve ferry commuters. Highway safety is my first transportation priority, and ferries are an important part of this network.”

In November, four of the ferry system’s Steel Electric-class vessels were taken out of service due to safety concerns about hull corrosion. This decision led to suspension of vehicle service on the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry route and to service disruptions on other routes. The new 100-vehicle ferries will begin serving the Port Townsend-Keystone route in April 2009.

“I appreciate the Legislature moving quickly on this bill so we can get the ferry building process under way and get these new boats in the water as fast as possible. I especially thank the prime sponsors, Senator Mary Margaret Haugen and Representative Judy Clibborn. We have been working closely together, along with other legislators and state Transportation Secretary Hammond, to make sure we address the needs of ferry riders as quickly as possible,” Gregoire said.

Today’s bill action comes on the heels of the hiring last week of a new director for the ferry system. The governor has asked the new director, David Moseley, to focus on three areas of improvement to help ensure Washington state has a healthy, cost-effective ferry system well into the future.

The improvement areas are:

  • A fleet preservation and maintenance program that sets the standard for industry best practices;

  • A restructured, nimble organization that provides outstanding customer service in partnership with each of the communities the system serves, and that meets the needs of a growing Puget Sound region; and

  • A funding plan that is lean and sustainable in the long term, and that accommodates the preservation and regular replacement of vessels in their planned life span.

“We are ready to go and we’re motivated,” Hammond said. “We’ve set an aggressive deadline to get the first of these ferries operating by April 2009. Now we’re ready to show people we can deliver.”

“This is an important first step toward fixing our neglected ferry system,” said Haugen, D-Camano Island, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “I’m looking forward to getting appropriate vessels on the Keystone-Port Townsend run as well as holding Washington State Ferries accountable for its operations and maintenance plans.”

The legislation also calls for the ferries to be built in Washington, with the goal of maintaining and growing the maritime building industry, providing local family-wage jobs and maintaining the shipbuilding infrastructure needed to ensure Washington has the maintenance and construction services needed to serve the ferry system into the future.

“Over the next 30 years, most of the other vessels in the fleet will need to be replaced as well,” said Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chair of the House Transportation Committee. “This is the start of a new generation of boatbuilding, and it only makes sense for us to keep these jobs in Washington.”

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