Murray gets an earful on ferries

As chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation Subcommittee, Patty Murray has a lead role in allocating federal dollars to road and transit projects.

That’s why Washington’s senior senator drew such a crowd for a roundtable discussion of transportation issues on Friday, Feb. 1, at Bremerton City Hall.

Nearly two dozen community leaders from around the region met to talk transportation, with an emphasis on ferries. Most agreed ferries are important to Washington’s economic future.

“Transportation is critical to future development,” Murray said. “If we want anyone to stay here, we have to have a way to move them around.”

Murray said she has been working on ferries issues with Rep. Norm Dicks, D-6th District. She got an earful on the topic at Friday’s meeting.

Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin emphasized the need to maintain passenger-only ferry service to Bremerton.

“We really need a champion on this issue,” said Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, looking directly at the senator. “The fast ferry is the one in jeopardy, but it’s the one (thing) that makes the most sense.”

The passenger-only ferries Snohomish and Chinook originally promised 35-minute rides to downtown Seattle. But a scientific study brought on by a lawsuit by Rich Passage property owners proved that wakes from the vessels cause damage to shorelines.

The boats were forced to slow down considerably.

“It’s a terrible waste of a great ship to see it putt-putt along like that,” Botkin said.

Michael Thorne, the new director of the Washington State Ferries, said the cost of fighting shoreline property owners would be high, and said the fast ferries are “now at high risk” of going away.

Kitsap Transit studies have found that smaller boats tend to reduce wake, allowing the vessels to go faster, according to Executive Director Dick Hayes.

“People have to realize the ferries not only benefit Western Washington, but benefit the whole state,” Thorne said. “It’s part of a multi-modal system of transportation that’s the lifeline of our economy.”

Botkin said the state’s plan to force users to cover 80 percent of ferry operational costs is “ludicrous,” especially when other ferry systems in the nation recover just 40 percent of revenues from passengers.

“I will take your suggestions to the legislators in Washington,” Murray said. “I don’t think they can take a pass on this. It’s essential to the future of your state.”

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