Opinion

Legislature is gearing up to address several critical ferry issues

By ALAN MENDEL

The 2008 legislative session will be dealing with some important ferry-related issues. Even though this year’s session — the second year of the two-year biennium — is only 60 days long, there are major questions that have to be addressed.

One significant issue is funding for Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) operations. Although there are a number of studies under way as a result of the Ferry Financing Study aimed at the 2009 legislative session, there has already been a bill filed in the House by Rep. Sherry Appleton of Bainbridge Island that would triple the amount of the state gas tax dedicated to ferry operations.

Currently WSF receives one-half of one percent of the gas tax revenues. Rep. Appleton’s bill — HB 2454 — would increase this to one and a half percent.

Rep. Appleton has also filed four other bills that would directly benefit Vashon residents and other ferry-served communities. These are HB 2453, which would eliminate the 30-minute “lockout” for multi-ride car and driver tickets; HB 2455, which would eliminate expiration dates from any prepaid ticket; and an as yet unnumbered bill that would reinstate language inadvertently dropped last year by HB 2358 regarding frequent-user discounts in ferry-dependent communities. Lastly, she has introduced HB 2451, which would create an 11-member commission — including representation from the ferry-served communities — to oversee the operation of WSF.

It is very important that we contact our legislators and members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees to express our support for these four bills. Our legislators are Sen. Joe McDermott, Rep. Eileen Cody and Vashon’s own Rep. Sharon Nelson. The members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees can be found at those committee’s Web sites, www.leg.wa.gov/house/committees/tr and www.leg.wa.gov/senate/committees/tran.

I and others on Vashon’s Ferry Advisory Committee will keep you informed of developments in the Legislature as the session develops.

Meanwhile, since the new Secretary of Transportation, Paula Hammond, took the steel-electric ferries out of service and thereby shut down the Port Townsend-Keystone auto route, the state has been scrambling to procure replacement boats that can operate on that route.

The decision has been made to build three 50-car ferries based on an existing design and thereby shorten the time until these boats are actually operating. Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed that these boats be funded in part by taking money previously allocated for the Mukilteo terminal and in part from funds previously intended for the purchase of four 144-car ferries, which were planned a number of years ago but that continue to be delayed.

The Legislature will be asked to approve this shifting of funds. If approved, the result will likely be that only two or three new 144-car boats will be built, not the four originally planned.

Although Vashon will not receive any of the new boats, we will benefit from the “trickle down effect” and receive a bigger boat to operate on the Fauntleroy run, replacing either the Klahowya or the Tillikum, which in turn would replace the Rhododendron on the Point Defiance route.

The Legislature is poised to take action on a number of key issues. If you’re concerned about our ferry service, now is the time to let your voice be heard.

— Alan Mendel chairs the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committe

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