Washington State Ferries officially accepted the newest ship into its fleet Thursday, but it won’t be serving the Mukilteo-to-Clinton route right away.
The Suquamish can hold 144 vehicles and is the cleanest-running and most accessible vessel in the fleet, according to a press release. The effort to bring the Olympic Class ferry to the South Whidbey run began two years ago first by the Clinton Community Council and was later taken up by a number of other groups in the area.
The council lamented longer-than-ever lines traveling on and off the island in its appeal to the state to bring the Suquamish to the local route.
The problem has persisted over the last two years.
In 2017, around 2.3 million vehicles traveled the route as it maintained its title as busiest in the state system for cars, according to state ferry statistics. Just in the first quarter of 2018, over 500,000 vehicles have passed through the run, which is 20 percent of total vehicles in the system.
“This new boat is a welcome addition to our route,” said David Hoogerwerf, chairman of the Clinton Advisory Committee. “We’ve been waiting for additional capacity to be added to our route since the Tokitae was added a few years ago.”
The new ship will only operate regularly between Clinton and Mukilteo during the summer and will serve as a maintenance relief vessel in the winter, filling in when other vessels are out of service, the release states.
It cost $122 million to build the Suquamish, which means “people of the clear salt water” in South Coast Salish Lushootseed language.
Ferry officials announced the decision to homeport the vessel in Mukilteo in December 2016, citing such factors as capacity, maintenance, operating costs and ridership numbers.
Thursday the agency accepted the completed vessel from the ship builder Vigor. It will begin carrying passengers this fall after crews complete outfitting and training on the new vessel. It will operate on the run during the summer and will fill in as maintenance relief during the winter.
“Our district is heavily dependent on ferries to get people where they need to go,” said Sen. Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “I fought for funding of this vessel in the 2015 transportation package, and I’m looking forward to the benefits it will have on our transportation system in the 10th District.”