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Murray proposes tripling ferry funding

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), has included an amendment to a Senate bill which would more than triple the federal investment in ferry transportation across the country, according to a release from her office Friday.

The change in the surface transportation reauthorization bill would increase federal funding from the current $38 million a year to $120 million per year for 2004 through 2009.

“Ferry travel is an important and growing mode of transportation in Washington state and across the country,” Murray said.

She noted that federal funding for ferries “pales in comparison” to that spent for highways and other forms of mass transit. And the need is growing.

Growth projections forecast a 14 percent increase in passenger traffic and a 17 percent increase in vehicular traffic by 2009.

At more than 11 million vehicles and 26 million people ferried in 1999, Washington state has the largest ferry system in the country, and Murray’s proposal came as welcome news.

Washington State Ferries spokesperson Pat Patterson said the additional federal funding would be a huge boost, especially with the planned construction of four new ferries and the multi-modal ferry terminal in Mukilteo.

“It takes a little of the pressure off,” she said. “It would be a huge step.”

It is not known how much of the federal increase WSF would get, but Murray’s bill contains a provision that preference for funding would go to the nation’s largest ferry systems.

“We’re at the top of the list,” Patterson said.

Federal funding could be used for purchasing equipment such as propellant systems and generators for the new boats, which are bid on nationally.

Patterson explained that since the boats must be built in the state, construction costs don’t qualify for federal funding.

Construction of the four ferries over the next nine years would add 335 jobs and $143 million to the state economy, Patterson said, as well as $51 million for materials purchased in-state.

“Without the money that Sen. Murray was able to get, the project would be a risk,” she said. “She’s getting a Valentine from me.”

The bill passed the Senate 76 to 21, and now goes to the House.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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