Editorial: Speedy ferry solution needed

Officials with Washington State Ferries have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The single bid for the first new ferry slated to be built for the Keystone-to-Port Townsend route was opened last week and it was a shocker. Todd Shipyards bid nearly $26 million, which was $9 million more than the state’s estimate. A ferry official said staff will examine the bid in the next week and determine how to proceed. This should be done with exigency as the communities on both ends of the route require answers as soon as possible.

The 80-year-old Steel Electric Class vessels were pulled out of service in November due to damaged hulls. Car ferry service was restored to the run in February with the Steilacoom II, on lease from Pierce County for 18 months. The state Legislature this year appropriated $84.5 million to build three new boats. Ferry officials decided to build one vessel nearly identical to the Steilacoom II, despite community concerns about the smaller boat’s ability to navigate rough waters or carry enough cars during the busy season. It also cannot carry large trucks, which will adversely affect certain industries. The positive aspect of the boat is that it can be built quickly and at a relatively low cost. The other two boats will be modeled after the larger Island Home, at a cost of about $30 million each. Plans call for the second and third boats to be completed in 2010.

For now, the options for the ferry system are limited. People have suggested making repairs to one of the Steel Electric Class boat, but that would likely cost millions of dollars for a very uncertain extension of life. Some have suggested that another boat be found to lease, but again that would waste limited resources on a short-term fix. State Ferries doesn’t have the $90 million to buy three larger vessels, plus it would take too long. The best option, as suggested by a State Ferries official, is for the state to negotiate with Todd Shipyards on the price. It’s been reported that certain factors have driven up the cost, such as the short timeline. Hopefully, a compromise can be reached — and quickly.

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