Single Keystone vessel retained in ferry system’s final plan

After 10 public meetings and sifting through hundreds of comments, Washington State Ferries is scheduled to deliver its long-range plan to the state Legislature Saturday.

The ferry plan still contains language for one ferry to serve the Port Townsend / Keystone route. It is one of the pieces of information legislators will use to form the budget for the ferry system.

There are currently two plans the ferry system will present to the Legislature Saturday. The first plan would continue the ferry system’s role as the primary provider of ferry services in the state, while the second plan is a more pared down version that includes language for keeping only one ferry on the Keystone route. Traditionally, two ferries serve the route in the spring and summer.

Both plans have budget shortfalls that need to be resolved.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. She said this week she still supports having two boats serve on the Keystone route and the Legislature will spend a lot of time in the current session debating the ferry system budget.

She added the ferry system’s long-range plan is only one piece of information used in the debate. In addition, there is a second study, being conducted by an independent contractor hired by the Joint Transportation Committee.

One of the suggestions coming out of that study is to build several “Island Home” ferries, which is the vessel type tapped to provide a permanent boat to operate on the Port Townsend to Keystone route. Construction of the first ferry is scheduled to be complete in Spring 2010.

The report from the independent contractor, the Cedar River Group, is expected to be complete early next month.

In addition to the written reports, Haugen said the Legislature has to see how federal bailout dollars is going to help the state.

The ferry system’s long range plan has undergone a period of extensive public comment since December. In all, 1,345 people attended meetings and 395 people testified, said Marta Coursey, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries. The ferry system received approximately 500 comments about its long-range plan.

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