Series of ferry meetings wrap in Bremerton

A series of eight advisory meetings sponsored by the Washington State Ferry system wrapped up this week with local gatherings in Bremerton and Vashon Island.

Those followed others that took place in Southworth, Bainbridge Island and four other locations throughout the region.

“The meetings were enormously helpful,” said David Moseley, who was recently appointed as the new WSF head. “Getting out and talking to people will help us to make recommendations to the Legislature in time for next year’s session.”

Aside from Moseley, Monday night’s Bremerton meeting was attended by Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond. Torie Brazitis, chair of the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee, called Hammond’s presence “a bonus, and a sign that WSF wants to fix the situation.”

Brazitis said the value of the meetings won’t be clear until there are apparent results, but said, “Everything I have seen so far has really restored the confidence of people who lost faith in the ferry system. And there was plenty of time for public comment.”

At the meeting, both Moseley and Hammond expressed disappointment about the outcome of the most recent ferry construction bid project, the first of three proposed 50-car ferries.

At the March 27 bid opening, Todd Pacific Shipyards of Tacoma was the sole project bidder, with a $26 million bid. This far exceeded WSDOT engineer’s estimate of $16.8 million, which Moseley later said resulted from a differing estimate of the hours that it would take to construct the vessel.(WSF estimated 140,000 work hours, while Todd projected 199,000.)

WSF rejected the bid on Thursday, and announced its intention to submit a new bid package. A limited amount of companies can bid on the project, as Federal law requires all ferries to be constructed in the United States. Beyond this, Washington state law requires boats to be constructed within state boundaries.

Twenty-sixth District State Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) said the requirement is is not likely to change, as there are several qualified shipbuilding firms within Washington.

Seaquist said the problems with the bid have to do with WSF’s requirements, which in many cases are not cost-effective or profitable.

“I think we may need to back away from the idea of a 50-car ferry,” Seaquist said. “It was a good idea at the time but I’m not sure that it meets our needs right now. I think we may want to build in the 144-car class, but I am sure that we need to start cutting steel as soon as possible.”

Among the concerns voiced at Monday night’s meeting was reliability, changing schedules to allow people enough time to see an entire play or ball game and the lack of any backup vessel.

“This is a political question that needs to be dealt with by the governor and the Legislature,” said Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman. “The question is if they want a viable, sustainable ferry system in Puget Sound. We have people who have carried the ferry system in the last six years, but they haven’t been able to do so. These guys (WSF) aren’t the problem. The problem is the governor and the Legislature, whether they feel this is a valuable system that needs to be sustained — just like the highway system.”

Sustainability, in fact, became Moseley’s mantra. At several points during the meeting he underscored the necessity to find a consistent funding source, that a one-time allocation would not be a satisfactory solution.

“We need a sustainable system,” he said. “We are now coming up with ideas on what its source for this will be.”

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