Opinion

Three-step fix for ferry system | As I See It

The Hiyu, one of Washington State Ferries smallest boats, leaves Friday Harbor,  a substitute for the Sealth on the inter-island route.    - Journal photo / Scott Rasmussen
The Hiyu, one of Washington State Ferries smallest boats, leaves Friday Harbor, a substitute for the Sealth on the inter-island route.
— image credit: Journal photo / Scott Rasmussen

By Kevin Ranker

Special to the Journal

The level of unpredictability and lack of ferry service in recent months is unacceptable.

As a frequent ferry commuter myself, I share the frustration other riders have with the inconsistent and uneven service. I also agree that the responsibility for this lies not as much with Washington State Ferries, but right here in Olympia.

The problem is that Olympia treats our ferry system differently than the rest of our state’s transportation system. That mentality is the first thing that must change. In addition to that, there are three steps that Olympia must take to make a noticeable difference in our ferry system.

First, we must pass Rep. Jeff Morris’ bill to build a third new 144-car ferry. I am championing this effort in the Senate.

There have been efforts to divert the money in the bill from construction of a third vessel to operations, but we have been successful so far in keeping the bill focused on construction of the third 144-car vessel.  Know that I will work every angle I can to make this bill and this boat a reality.

The second key to a fully functioning and sustainable ferry system in the San Juans is to make sure that one of the three new 144-car ferries is permanently dedicated to the San Juan route.

I am proud to have led the effort in the Senate two and three years ago to secure funding to build the first and second new 144-car ferries.  While the first boat is dedicated elsewhere, the second boat is supposed to come to the San Juans for the spring, summer and fall when it is completed in late 2015.

I am working with our state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson to make absolutely sure that boat remains in service to the San Juans year-round by the end of 2015. This is critical if we are to have more reliable service.  Securing the third new 144-car vessel will help make this a reality as that boat can support needs elsewhere in the system in the winter.

The third issue we must tackle is a transportation revenue package. We can build all the new boats we want, but if we don’t have the money to operate them, we will still have poor service and increasing fares.

Currently, transportation is one of several political footballs being kicked around the capital. It’s cliché to say it, but there are no Republican roads and there are no Democratic bridges. We all depend on our transportation system and any solution for an issue of this magnitude will have to be of the bipartisan variety.

Unfortunately, a transportation revenue package cannot happen without revenue and there are some that argue that we cannot raise taxes, no matter what the cost. I would argue that ferries will continue to break and bridges will continue to fall until we have a bold and thoughtful discussion that creates a new revenue package to support our state’s transportation infrastructure.

David Moseley, Assistant Transportation Secretary and the man in charge of ferries, pointed out correctly in the Journal recently that the funds allocated by the legislature since 2000 are not enough to adequately operate our state’s ferry system. I would go further and say that our entire state’s transportation infrastructure is woefully lacking and upgrading it is not only a matter of commerce and transportation, it is a matter of public safety.

If we were to pass a transportation revenue package, we could not only have a third ferry, but we would be able to backfill ferry operations and capital accounts so that we have a sustainable and reliable ferry system. I cannot stress enough the good this would do for our state.

As politicians, we should not be afraid of thoughtfully discussing revenues and taxes in an election year, we should be afraid of what will happen if we don’t.

It’s time to put politics aside and get this job done.

— Editor’s note: State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, represents the 40th District, which, in addition to San Juan and portions of Skagit and Whatcom counties, includes the cities of Anacortes, Bellingham, Burlington and Mount Vernon.

 

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