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Ferry run between Port Townsend and Whidbey island suspended

BY RECORD STAFF

Washington State Ferries pulled the ferries running between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island out of service Wednesday, leaving hundreds of commuters and holiday travelers stranded.

The state ferry system said it would bring a passenger-only ferry to serve the Port Townsend-Keystone route, and add more sailings to the detour route at Edmonds-Kingston to handle holiday traffic.

Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond announced Tuesday night that Washington State Ferries would pull all Steel Electric class vessels out of service after they complete their last run that day.

This means that the Port Townsend-Keystone car ferry route will be closed beginning Wednesday until further notice.

The stop came without advance warning.

Washington State Ferries runs four 80-year-old Steel Electric class vessels – Quinault, Klickitat, Illahee and Nisqually. These vessels predominantly serve the Port Townsend-Keystone and San Juan Islands inter-island routes. They are the only ferries in the system capable of operating in Keystone’s narrow and shallow harbor.

“After meeting with staff concerning the most recent inspections of the Steel Electric hulls, I have decided that we must pull these ferries from service to examine each of the hulls more extensively,” Hammond said. “Ongoing work on the Quinault has revealed significant hull pitting along the keel that likely extends to all four Steel Electric vessels.”

Two Steel Electrics were operating – the Klickitat on the Port Townsend-Keystone route and the Illahee on the San Juan Islands inter-island route.

The Klickitat was removed from the Port Townsend-Keystone route at the end of the service Tuesday and the Illahee was tied up at Anacortes after its last sailing Tuesday.

“Safety is our number one priority,” Hammond said. “It cannot be compromised. We have kept up with the repairs on these vessels, but we are at a turning point that requires emergency action."

To help lessen the impacts of the loss of passenger-vehicle service on Port Townsend-Keystone, the ferry system will operate three vessels on the Edmonds-Kingston route through Sunday evening, Nov. 25 to handle the extra traffic expected over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The route is the best detour for people traveling from the Olympic Peninsula to Whidbey Island, ferry officials said.

Further, they'll run the high-speed passenger ferry Snohomish between Port Townsend and Keystone.

“I realize the timing of this couldn’t be worse,” Hammond said. “It is Thanksgiving weekend. We are doing everything we can to make this easier on the traveling public and the communities we serve.”

Ferry officials said they are making every attempt to have the service up and running by Friday, Nov. 23 to serve customers during their Thanksgiving travel. The passenger ferry will maintain the current schedule.

“We are working with local transit agencies as well as major local employers to help arrange transportation connections on both sides of the route,” said Traci Brewer-Rogstad, deputy executive director for Washington State Ferries.

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