Community input on ferry issue welcome as work continues
Let me begin by thanking those of you who attended the ferry meeting on Saturday, Feb. 28 at Langley Middle School. With almost 300 people in attendance, it was a great sample of Whidbey opinions. The passion our communities have for our essential marine highways was clearly demonstrated. I can assure you that I heard your voices loud and clear. Hopefully the director of Washington State Ferries did as well.
While there were diverse opinions on some issues, one clear message emerged regarding the proposed reservation system on the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry: It will not work on the route for residents of the island. In these difficult economic times, we must focus our limited resources on maintaining and preserving our existing fleet, providing adequate and dependable service, restoring full service to Keystone-Port Townsend, and building replacement vessels to update our aging fleet.
As I've reviewed the feedback forms from the meeting, there were a wide range of concerns about the long-range plans for our ferries, including the proposed reservation system at Mukilteo and Clinton terminals. Copies of the completed feedback forms, the sign-in sheet, as well as the petition submitted to me by attendees have been provided to Washington State Ferries Director David Moseley, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, and Rep. Barbara Bailey.
People across the state often do not realize ferries are part of our highway system, are not a luxury for ferry-dependent communities, and that we pay a significant toll for the service. Our ferries are essential to the well-being of our citizens, our businesses and our economy. They provide a critical link between our Navy bases on the island and the Olympic Peninsula. Living in Clinton, I am one of only a few legislators who has commuted by ferry for many years. I will continue to be a tireless advocate for these critical segments of our state highway system.
We must fully restore service on the Port Townsend to Keystone run. The single, leased boat currently in use has made this route difficult to use, especially in peak traffic months. This has had a severe impact on residents and businesses, including our Naval Air Station. The Legislature appropriated $84.5 million last year to construct two Island Home class vessels, but the bid for just one boat came in well above the state's estimate. While the first boat is under way, we must continue to stress the importance of acquiring the second vessel to ensure our communities' transportation needs can be met.
I am very concerned with problems I've seen with Washington State Ferries since taking office in January 2008. Money was appropriated in 2003 to build four, 144-car ferries, but six years later not a single boat has been built. Equally troubling is the fact that bids for the new ferries have come in millions of dollars over department estimates. This must be addressed if we are ever going to have solutions for our marine highway.
I have co-sponsored a bill this session that would get Washington State Ferries out of the boat-building business, require them to use best commercial business practices and focus instead on maintenance and operations of our ferry fleet. The bill did not receive a hearing, but I believe this is the kind of reform we need to look at in the ferry system. I will continue working vigorously with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and with constituents to make the much-needed changes.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office as questions arise. I am here to represent your voice in Olympia, and deeply appreciate your thoughts and ideas.
Rep. Norma Smith is serving her first full term as a state representative for the 10th Legislative District, which includes all of Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties. She is the ranking Republican on the House Community and Trade and Economic Development Committee, and is the assistant ranking Republican on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Government Audit and Review committees. She also serves on the House Capital Budget Committee.