Opinion

Sound Off: Ferry system tackles challenges

By DAVID MOSELEY

The ferry system is facing big challenges — aging boats, service interruptions, inadequate funding. Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond has made it clear that my top priority is to overcome these obstacles and to restore public trust in the ferry system.

I consider this the ultimate career challenge, which is why I wanted this position. As I near the first 30-day mark as WSDOT assistant secretary of the Ferries Division, I am pleased to see that we are already making progress.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature have prioritized replacing our aging ferries with new boats to ensure reliable ferry service. WSDOT is moving quickly in order to have the first ferry ready for service by May 2009. In all, we will deliver six new ferries in the next four years.

This week we reach the first major milestone in building new ferries to replace the oldest ferries in the fleet that were taken out of service in November 2007. On Thursday, March 27, the ferry system will open bids from local shipyards, officially launching the construction phase for a new 50-car ferry for the unique Port Townsend/Keystone route. Design is already underway for two more ferries to replace the Steel Electrics.

Other new, larger boats will be under construction by next year. Negotiations with our shipyard partners should be completed this fall on three 144-car vessels that will be used system-wide. The first 144-car ferry is expected to be in service by early 2011.

We are resolute and focused on the future, while recognizing that vessel maintenance schedules increase service disruptions and cause frustration for our customers. Unfortunately, some of these adjustments will continue. There are no spare vessels in the system, so when a vessel is taken out of service for maintenance it causes a ripple effect throughout the system. We are all experiencing the pain.

Until the new boats are completed, we will work to maximize existing capacity and make the most efficient use of what we have now. I am committed to improving customer service and to making sure that good information is available in a timely manner.

I have learned a lot in my first 30 days as assistant secretary to the Ferries Division. I’ve learned that we have to focus on the “basics” — operating vessels safely with the maximum of customer service and the minimum of service disruptions — to solve our challenges and regain trust.

This week we take the first step forward.

David Moseley, assistant secretary, WSDOT Ferries Division

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