Smaller boat indicative of ferry system’s struggles

A smaller boat running the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route might become a more frequent sight.

A smaller boat running the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route might become a more frequent sight as the state ferry system continues to operate with a reduced fleet.

Earlier this week, Washington State Ferries announced the replacement of the 124-car Kitsap with the 64-car Salish, a downsizing of 60 vehicles on the route that is one of the most traversed in the entire system. It is expected that the Clinton-Mukilteo route will get a bigger boat after approximately one week.

The replacement boat is a result of some “ferry Tetris,” as Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for the ferry system, put it. The Kitsap was sent to the triangle route that services Fauntleroy, Vashon Island and Southworth to fill in for a boat that is currently out of service due to routine maintenance.

Maintenance is usually planned to be completed during winter because it is the least busy time of the year.

“If you don’t do maintenance, obviously you risk breaking down later or not being able to get into the shipyard,” Sterling said. “If you skip your oil change, you might not be able to get back in for months.”

More than just an oil change, the boats also have to be inspected by the Coast Guard once a year.

Five of the fleet’s 21 vessels are currently undergoing required maintenance, while two are out for emergency repairs. This leaves 14 ferries to run a total of nine routes.

“We don’t have enough boats around, and this is not something that’s going to get cured anytime soon,” Sterling said, adding that even with federal funding, it won’t be until 2028 that a new boat is built.

Sterling pointed to a lack of funding for the ferry system from past legislatures as contributing to today’s problem.

“You’ve got a deficit that’s left over from the can being kicked down the road,” he said.

Although the smaller boat is not an ideal situation for riders of the Clinton-Mukilteo route, other parts of the system have been hit much harder. The Edmonds-Kingston route, which usually runs two boats, is operating with just one.

“We don’t have enough boats to run the service that we normally would,” Sterling said. “And that’s probably the foreseeable future for the system as a whole.”