Rocky start for new state ferry; lawmakers demand 'major overhaul'

SEATTLE - Washington state's newest ferry is off to a rough start, with hundreds of passengers delayed on the busy Mukilteo-Clinton run Tuesday morning and a potentially major design flaw with the vessel's vehicle loading ramps.

And now, two state lawmakers are calling for a "major overhaul" of the ferry system's upper management, saying they were deliberately misled about problems with the new class of ferry.

The new vessel, the Tokitae, entered service about noon Monday after a two-week delay for additional crew training.

But a small hydraulic leak forced it to cancel its first round trip Tuesday morning for repairs and a sea trial, says Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Marta Coursey.

She says the vessel is now back on schedule. But another problem is creating even more concern.

The Tokitae has a design flaw that causes some cars to scrape bottom on the edge of ramps. Coursey says crews have to sort vehicles by size and weight and direct them either to the main deck or side ramps.

Two lawmakers, state Reps. Norma Smith of Clinton and Larry Seaquist of Gig Harbor, say they raised red flags months ago about the ramp problems for some cars with low clearances for wheelbases. But they were told that the problem had been fixed.

Now Smith tells KOMO News she believes they were deliberately misled.

"Went to the shipyard, met with ferries and those working on the boat - was assured at that time it was not an issue," she says.

She and Seaquist released a statement Tuesday saying that "misinformation" about the new vessel from the ferry system is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Other problems include continuing labor management issues within the state ferry system, including overtime increases, manning shortages and training and dispatch issues which have resulted in missed sailings, delays and crew morale challenges, the statement said.

"WSF must be held accountable. To ensure improvements in the department, we are strongly advising a major overhaul of upper management in the ferries division in order to restore public trust," the lawmakers said.

Meanwhile, the Everett Herald quotes Gov. Jay Inslee as saying if there is a problem with the new class of ferries, the boat builder is responsible for getting it fixed.

Interim state ferries director George Capacci is asking the Vigor shipyard to change ramps on two more 144-car ferries that are under construction.
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