Legislation will add three new ferries to state fleet

Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday signed legislation authorizing construction for up to three new car ferries for communities served by the Washington State Ferry system. These new ferries would carry up to 100 vehicles per trip.
The first of the boats authorized by Senate Bill 6794 is scheduled for delivery in 14 months. The three boats will join the three 144-car boats that are in the process of being designed.
In November, four of the ferry system’s Steel Electric-class vessels were taken out of service due to safety concerns about hull corrosion. This decision led to suspension of vehicle service on the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry route and to service disruptions on other routes. The new 100-vehicle ferries will begin serving the Port Townsend-Keystone route in April 2009.
Thursday’s bill action comes on the heels of the hiring last week of a new director for the ferry system. The governor has asked the new director, David Moseley, to focus on three areas of improvement to help ensure Washington state has a healthy, cost-effective ferry system well into the future.
The improvement areas are:
— A fleet preservation and maintenance program that sets the standard for industry best practices;
— A restructured, nimble organization that provides outstanding customer service in partnership with each of the communities the system serves, and that meets the needs of a growing Puget Sound region; and
— A funding plan that is lean and sustainable in the long term, and that accommodates the preservation and regular replacement of vessels in their planned life span.
The legislation also calls for the ferries to be built in Washington, with the goal of maintaining and growing the maritime building industry, providing local family-wage jobs and maintaining the shipbuilding infrastructure needed to ensure Washington has the maintenance and construction services needed to serve the ferry system into the future.