Sen. Murray announces bill to boost federal money for ferries

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced new legislation Wednesday that could mean an increase of more than $35 million each year for the Washington state ferry system.

Murray unveiled the proposal, called the U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009, at a press conference Wednesday.

The proposal would mean $200 million a year in federal funding for ferry systems across the country starting in 2010. It would run through 2015.

"This legislation is going to strengthen the federal investment," Murray, D-Wash., said in a conference call with reporters after the press conference.

"As someone who takes the ferry almost every weekend when I am home to get home, I know how critical this transportation is," she said.

Currently, Washington state gets about $5 million in federal funding for ferries each year, and can compete for grants for additional money.

Under the Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009, half of the $100 million would be sent to states with ferry systems. The rest would disbursed through a grant process.

Murray, and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, said the new arrangement would mean a boost in ferry funding to Washington state.

The funding could be spent on capital projects, new terminals and maintenance.

The money could also be spent on new ferries, but due to restrictions on ferry construction under Washington state law, it could not be spent on building new hulls.

Still, the funding — if the bill is eventually signed into law — would help the state ferry system's bottom line, said David Moseley, assistant secretary of the state Ferries Division.

"It provides some certainty to us," Moseley said.

He also noted the funding could increase the possibility that a new 144-vehicle ferry could be built in the coming years. The state Legislature has approved building a new 144-vehicle ferry in its just-approved transportation budget, but has not earmarked money for the vessel.

"It increases the possibilities a 144," Moseley said.

The funding could also be used for new terminals in Mukilteo and Anacortes, he said.

Larsen, a 2nd District Democrat, said the bill could go to the floor of the U.S. House in June, with a possible vote in July.

Murray said it was likely the Senate would take up the bill next year, as part of the reauthorization bill for transportation funding.

"Knowing the full plate we have in front of us, it may well be next year," she said.

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