WSF wants 5 new ferries over next 5 years as current fleet ages

Washington State Ferry Tacoma (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- The Washington State Ferry System has released a draft of their 20-year long-range plan. The more than 300-page document recommends new boats and a modest increase in service to deal with congestion.

There have been 25 million riders who traveled to and from communities on Puget Sound aboard 10 routes via 20 terminals in 2017 alone.

“Our ferry system is basically an extension of our state highway system,” said Elizabeth Kosa, who is the chief of staff at Washington State Ferries.

It is what makes the ferry system the largest in the United States. But it’s an aging fleet and with an aging workforce. This as ridership is expected grow by 30 percent by 2040.

“With our population increasing, we have to be able to serve the public,” said Amy Scarton, who is assistant secretary for WSF when she sat down with KOMO News in August. “We can’t do that if our vessels are getting too old to run and we don’t have the vessels being built new to replace them.”

The long-range draft plan asks for five more Olympic class ferries -- two to maintain the fleet and three to replace vessels due to retire -- over the next five years.

“We are seeing aging vessels on the water, so it’s time to invest in that asset,” said Kosa.

Over the next 20 years, 13 of the 22-vessel fleet will be eligible for retirement. That happens when a ferry reaches 60 years old.

The draft plan also addresses more items including reliable service, customer experience, managing growth, sustainability and resilience.

“We are really looking at how are we designing our vessels, how are we up keeping our terminals so that we can meet the demand of the increase,” said Kosa

The primary challenge for state ferries, according to the draft plan, is lack of capital funding. The total cost to implement the plan over the next 20 years is $14.2 billion. $7.5 billion is projected to be covered by tax revenue and fare collection. So funding the other roughly $6 billion will be up to taxpayers and lawmakers.

“The ferry system belongs to all of us, so everybody should weigh in and understand the importance of this public asset that we have,” said Stephanie Cirkovich who is the director of community services and planning at Washington State Ferries.

The 45-day public comment period started Monday. That includes open houses and outreach sessions.

WSF will review all comments from the public before finalizing the plan that will submitted to the legislature in January 2019.

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