$4.8 million secured for ferries, including Triangle route

The grant will extend the lifespan of six Issaquah class vessels by five to ten years.

Six aging state ferries, including two serving Vashon, will receive $4.8 million in new federal funding for refurbishing, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray announced Nov. 29.

The grant will fund a passenger area project to extend the lifespan of all six of Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) Issaquah class vessels by five to ten years, the senators said. That includes improving passenger amenities, making more room between passengers in high-occupancy areas, and making cleaning easier for WSF staff, according to the senators’ release.

The MV Kittitas and Cathlamet, both serving the Triangle route between Fauntleroy, Southworth and Vashon, are among the six ferries that will benefit from the grants. Those six comprise more than a quarter of the entire WSF fleet.

“These critical refurbishments made possible with the funding we’re announcing today will allow these vessels to serve passengers more comfortably and for years to come,” Sen. Murray said in a prepared statement.

The grant for WSF comes from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) 2023 Ferry Programs Grants. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will provide an additional $960,000 for the project, according to the release, bringing the total new funding for the project to $5.76 million.

Specifically, the project will install new bathroom fixtures, deck coverings, underlayment, counter tops, bulkheads, electric lighting and overheads on the six Issaquah class vessels to maintain better sanitation in the passenger areas of the vessel, WSF Director of Planning, Customer and Government Relations John Vezina said in an email Nov. 29.

In fiscal year 2022, only 43% of WSF’s 21 vessels met the target for being considered in good repair, according to the release.

“From July 2019 to June 2023, each of the six vessels was out of operation in shipyards for an average of 3.12 months each year,” the release reads. “Without refurbishment, vessels will continue to deteriorate, and service disruptions will become even more commonplace.”

The agency has acknowledged that, in the long-term, it needs more crew and new vessels.

State lawmakers have stepped up recently to help, WSF has said. The agency earned more than $18 million in new funding since 2022 from the state legislature for workforce development programs. The money goes toward bringing more crew on the ferries and for maintenance work on the ferries currently out-of-service.

The Issaquah class vessels, built between 1979 and 1982, can each carry 90-124 vehicles and up to 1,200 passengers per trip.They include:

MV Issaquah (1979): Currently out for planned maintenance and preservation, estimated to return early January.

MV Kittitas (1980): Serving Fauntleroy/Southworth/Vashon.

MV Kitsap (1980) : Serving Mukilteo/Clinton.

MV Cathlamet (1981): Serving Fauntleroy/Southworth/Vashon.

MV Chelan (1981) : Serving Anacortes/San Juan Islands.

MV Sealth (1982): Currently out for planned maintenance and preservation, estimated to return mid-December.

Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced $11.6 in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) money in January this year for the ferry system, and were involved in securing $25 million to replace the Lummi Island ferry with a new electric hybrid vessel.

Service on the Triangle route is still at only two boats. WSF is updating a service contingency plan, expected to be released to the public in late December, that will offer an update on efforts to restore the route, Vezina said.