Federal dollars eyed for ferry system

United States Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen announced new legislation that they hope will eventually pump millions of dollars into the state ferry system.

The bill, known as the U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009, would bring in $200 million per year to ferry systems across the country.

For Washington state, the legislation could bring in an estimated $40 million per year.

“I am delighted that our federal representatives are recognizing the critical role that ferries play in the transportation system,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said in a written statement. “Just like roads and bridges, ferries should be given equal consideration.”

Murray said the legislation includes changing the way federal dollars are doled out to ferry systems. The proposal would institute a formula based on the number of riders and vehicles along with the number of miles traveled. Since Washington has the largest system in the country, it would fare well under the formula.

There will be money, $100 million, set aside reserved for grants that would go toward developing ferry systems.

David Moseley, director of Washington State Ferries, said the federal money could fund projects that include terminal renovation such as the ones in Anacortes and Mukilteo. He added the ferry system will also be aggressive in applying for addition money available through the grants.

One thing the funding won’t go toward is construction of ferry hulls, which would be prevented because of the “built in Washington clause,” which requires local ferries to be built in the state.

Murray said Wednesday that the U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act will be worked into the Transportation Reauthorization Bill, and because of the number of bills to consider, it could be until 2010 before it is approved.

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