Opinion

Ferry system’s future rests with the state Legislature

By GARY SIPPLE

For The Beachcomber

Last Thursday the state Senate released its 2009-11 proposed Senate Transportation Budget.

In the proposed budget, we see that Plan B for the ferry system is dead. (It would have removed one of the three ferries at the north end and limited the south end to the Hiyu) We see that ferry operations are fully funded, that money will be moved from terminals and reservations to boat building, and that the fare increase this year will be held to 2.5 percent.

Though we have some victories out of the Senate, there is no provision for building the much-needed and more efficient 144-car ferries until 2015. Only four of the 64-car Island Home ferries are recommended. Though disappointing, it wasn’t a surprise. Other elements in the proposals put forth by citizens last month are also missing: for example, a rate cap on fares, alternate funding for building ferries and the establishment of a Ferry Community Advisory Council.

The Washington State Ferries (WSF) preference is three 64’s and two 144-car ferries.

Vashon’s transportation committee, in conjunction with our Ferry Community Partnership citizens, has recommended only two Island Home 64’s, and three 144s — or any scenario that gets 144-car boats built sooner.

The reasons are numerous, including greater route flexibility if any of the existing larger boats go down; and, important to Vashon’s south end, further delays in building the 144s extends the probability that the 32-car Hiyu will still need to be used for backup.

After the Senate budget was passed, we focused on the House of Representative transportation committee which we thought may be more receptive to reducing the number of Island Home vessels in favor of building the larger 144s. Support for our recommendations in the House bill send a strong message back to the Senate for the need to have 144s built over the next four years.

On Monday, the House transportation committee released its proposed 2009-2011 budget. In it, the House provides capital funding for the purchase of only three 64-car Island Home boats, one less than the Senate proposed…this is good.

The House also proposes to build two 144-car boats beginning in 2014: good, but not good enough. This schedule means the first 144-car boat won’t be in service until 2016.

Other items in the House bill — an annual 2.5

percent fare cap, minimum funding for ferry terminals and funding for a WSF reservation system study — are basically the same as the Senate bill.

Ok, the battle isn’t over yet. Before further hearings leading up to the final vote, we need a polite, but very large, lobbying and letter-writing campaign from you, our Island citizens, now. It’s easy to do. Everything you need, from legislator contact lists to talking points, are available. Just contact me at 463-5560 or gnsipple@comcast.net.

Again, I remind everyone that our position in conjunction with Ferry Community Partnership citizens, and for the most part with WSF, is that we must move up construction of 144-car boats.

So, please join us and the other ferry-dependent communities in this critical campaign. The end result will impact the quality of life of each and very one of us for the foreseeable future.

— Gary Sipple leads outreach for Vashon community council’s transportation committee.

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