Washington State Ferries is one of the drivers of the economy of the Puget Sound region. Imagine what it would be like without them. Anyone driving to Whidbey Island would have to take Deception Pass Bridge; anyone driving to the Olympic Peninsula would have to drive over the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Thanks to the ferries, many thousands of commuters and tourists have a better, faster, and less ecologically damaging way to reach their destination — on a beautiful Washington State Ferry trip.
The ferry system has been catching up in its endless battle against obsolescence. When the ancient steel electrics were pulled from service a few years ago, havoc broke loose on the Coupeville to Port Townsend route. But construction of two 64-car ferries now has the route well serviced all year, with one ferry in the winter and two during the busy summer months.
The latest construction goal is four, 144-car ferries. They’re crucial to modernizing the fleet and crucial to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, which builds the superstructures. One has left Nichols’ yard, another is in the works, and a third is awaiting funding by the Legislature which convenes in special session Monday. Nobody is talking about the fourth right now, but its time will come.
It’s refreshing that Whidbey Island’s two delegates to Olympia, Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, are on board with the idea that the third ferry has to be funded this session. Nichols Brothers and the primary contractor, Vigor Shipyards of Seattle, are both geared up to build the ferries. A third could be started immediately. With all the equipment and workers in place, and the experience gained from building the other two, they can build the third boat at a far lesser cost now than if they have to wait a year or two and start from scratch.
As Republicans, Smith and Bailey naturally are concerned about overspending. Smith sees financial streamlining as a necessity for all transportation projects, as does Bailey. But they both see the cost effectiveness of building a third 144-car ferry now.
Nobody knows what will come out of the special session, but one thing that has to is another 144-car ferry. We’re trusting our elected representatives can deliver.