Can the construction of the 3rd 144-car ferry be delayed? Yes. Should the the construction of the 3rd 144-car ferry be delayed? No. Jim Corenman, chair of the San Juan Islands Ferry Advisory Council explains why in this excerpt from a piece he wrote earlier this week.
No one likes higher taxes or additional fees, but transportation systems are among the things that individuals cannot do for themselves. Transportation also serves the public good, and needs to be paid for somehow. Since 1999 we have been struggling with how to fund transportation. This bill won’t solve that problem but it will cover one piece of it and get us closer.
Ferries are essential to the Puget Sound communities and important to the economy for the entire state. They take people to work and shopping, attract visitors as a primary tourist attraction, and knit our islands and communities together.
WSF currently has two Olympic 144-car vessels under construction, to replace two of the three oldest boats in the fleet, which are nearing 60 years of age. The advantage of having a “class” of boats is shared parts, tools and skills to maintain them. A class of just one remaining E-State-class boat makes no sense– a complete set of spares for one boat?– and would be very expensive to keep running. And run it must, because WSF has no extra boats– the only designated “spare” in the system is the 34-car Hiyu, too small to be useful anywhere in the system except the San Juan interisland run.
Which is where it was in January while the Evergreen State underwent engine repairs, and where it is again today, covering for the Evergreen State while the Sealth gets repaired. Aging machinery of any sort needs increasing maintenance.
Building a third 144 now allows the contractor to continue the build process and saves the cost of re-tooling and re-training. Stopping and restarting will certainly raise the cost, and changing tacks at this point will cost even more. And one additional 144 allows the aging E-State class to be gracefully retired, avoiding escalating maintenance costs and the increasing chance of some unforeseen fatal breakdown.
Yes, this is not perfect, and certainly we as a state can do better with ferry costs and construction. And of course ferries can continue to operate more efficiently. We are committed to helping find ways of doing all that, but we need some breathing room for the aging fleet.