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Citizens continue crafting ‘Plan C’ for ferry system

The vision of a small group of people concerned about the future of Washington’s ferries is beginning to come into focus in the form of “Plan C,” an alternative to the long-range proposals put forth by Washington State Ferries. Its preliminary draft was released Monday.

The group is molding Plan C into bills that will be put before the state Legislature in the beginning of March. Hopefully, Plan C will do what the governor and ferry system haven’t yet done, organizers say — find a long-term funding source for the beleaguered system that will allow it to provide adequate service to communities throughout the Puget Sound for decades to come.

“There is some unhappiness as far as what we’ve seen from the governor’s office and the Legislature,” said Kari Ulatoski, chair of the Island’s transportation committee. “We haven’t seen any bills that address funding and operations of ferries.”

Organizers — including Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), who will sponsor the bill’s introduction into the Legislature — are using WSF’s “Scenario A” as their springboard in creating Plan C.

Scenario A makes slight improvements to ferry service in the coming decades, but doesn’t do enough to address growing populations, some say. And it leaves the ferry system more than $3 billion short of funds in 22 years. “Scenario B,” on the other hand, slashes ferry service drastically and still leaves WSF more than $1 million short in 2030.

So a group of citizens has emerged with the goal of formulating a better plan for the underfunded ferry system. Ulatoski said those molding Plan C were in consensus that Plan B is unacceptable and should be eliminated entirely when the Legislature moves forward in its budget process.

A main tenet of Plan C is that WSF needs more funding. One possibility to pump up its budget is to create a license fee, adding a few dollars earmarked for the ferry system to Washingtonians’ annual vehicle tabs, Ulatoski said. Or creating a gas tax — something also being considered in Massachusetts and Iowa to pay for the states’ transportation and infrastructure needs.

The formulators of Plan C also believe WSF should shift its priorities from terminals to vessels, Ulatoski said. The ferry system’s long-range plans propose spending more than three times as much on terminals as on vessels, according to the Ferry Community Partnership.

“Money needs to focus on building the fleet and replacing aging vessels,” Ulatoski said.

She added that the ferry system could save a bundle by building more than one boat at a time.

“We want to get the Legislature to think in terms of building boats in fleets,” she said. “You save money and time by using the same people.”

Ulatoski and a contingent of Islanders plan to attend a rally in Olympia today to try to get the attention of those legislators who don’t seem to be paying attention to the problem, she said.

Residents of Vashon and other ferry-served communities will gather on the steps of the Capitol, and activists and elected officials will speak.

Organizers have arranged face-to-face meetings with more than two dozen state Legislators, said Liz Otis, a member of the transportation committee. The rally is deeply connected to Plan C, she said. It will be a chance to introduce the plan widely to legislators and community members alike.

Within weeks, Plan C “will be presented to both the House and the Senate, and hopefully they’ll discuss, make revisions and move forward with it,” Ulatoski said. “If nothing else, ‘Citizens Write Plan C’ highlights the need for more community involvement.”

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