Ferry supporters from around Puget Sound rally in Olympia

Vashon Islanders joined state legislators, local government officials and residents of other waterfront communities in Olympia yesterday, to send a unified message to the state Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire: Washington State Ferries need help. (Photos)

At a rally on the steps of the Capitol building, more than a dozen people expressed their dissatisfaction with the direction the state ferry system is headed. It's the underfunded, neglected arm of the state Department of Transportation, they say.

They're Puget Sound's marine highways, noted several state Legislators, and should be funded in keeping with the amount of people they serve.

And unless state lawmakers take notice of the ferry system's lack of long-term funding, they say, it could be the demise of both the system and the communities that rely heavily upon ferries for transportation.

"I ask you, when people come to Seattle, do they say, 'I want to go on the viaduct?'" Debbi Lester of Bainbridge asked the crowd. "No, they say, 'I want to ride the ferries.'"

More than 8,000 Washingtonians from Vashon Island and other ferry-served communities signed petitions in the last three weeks telling Gov. Gregoire that funding proposals currently being considered for WSF’s future are “totally unacceptable.”

Lester and several Islanders hand-delivered those petitions on Wednesday afternoon to a member of Gregoire's staff.

The mood at the noontime rally was buoyant and optimistic. Though many recognized there's work to be done, they seemed up to the task.

"You are the reason we're here," said Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island). "We are listening. We are concerned. We have a ways to go, but we are working together on the problem daily."

Legislators from many points of the Puget Sound — from Bremerton to Bainbridge, from Whidbey to Poulsbo — spoke out in favor of the ferries, which many of their constituents believe are their lifelines.

"This is not only a ferry-hugging group of people who love the ferries because we ride the ferries," Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) told the crowd gathered in the shadow of the Capitol building on Wednesday.

He's been instrumental in creating "Plan C," a better long-range proposal for WSF than the two plans it came up with, he and others say.

"Plan C makes good sense," he said. "Instead of just coming down here and holding signs and saying we want something ... we're talking about how this ferry system can do things better."

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