Will it buy two ferries?

Washington State Ferries’ desk pilots have at long last fired up their calculators and determined they can’t build three ferries for $85 million, so they will build two instead.

When the Legislature this spring set aside $85 million there was no proof that amount would actually pay for three ferries. When State Ferries went out for bid on the first one, the bid came in at $26 million, which was $9 million over the estimate. And this was for a 50-car Steilacoom II clone, the smaller of the three proposed ferries. Observers started wondering how $85 million could possibly be enough for three boats.

The larger two ferries, patterned after the Seattle-designed Island Home ferry that serves a route on the East Coast, cost $32 million. The 76-vehicle Island Home was delivered to the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority in February 2007.

For $85 million, the ferry system would have needed the first bid to come in at $20 million, and the cost of the Island Home ferries to hold at the $32 million price. This was nonsensical from the start, as the Island Home bid was awarded around the beginning of 2005, with the keel laid in April of that year.

Whoever supplied the Legislature with the $85 million cost estimate obviously didn’t take construction inflation into consideration. It must be significant in the shipbuilding industry with the price of metal skyrocketing.

Another factor apparently not considered is that the Island Home was built in Mississippi, where labor costs are significantly lower. Our state Legislature insists that our ferries be built in Washington, even if there’s only one bid based on this state’s high labor rates. The Legislature is more concerned about union workers than getting the most for the taxpayers’ dollar.

A third factor is changes required by Washington State Ferries to the Island Home design. Obviously, needs are different on the two coasts. This too would inflate the cost of the new boats. For reference, see the Steilacoom II clone bid, which was high in part because of changes in the design requested by State Ferries.

Washington State Ferries now has no choice but to buy only two ferries. On Whidbey Island, we should be concerned how this affects the Keystone to Port Townsend run. Where will the state find a second ferry to serve during the busy summer months? At present, there is no long-term solution to this question.

And taxpayers should not assume that $85 million will be enough to build two ferries after the ferry system makes its design changes, inflation continues to soar, and bid competition is limited to this state.

The Legislature convenes in January 2009. Don’t be surprised if legislators are asked for even more money to build only two ferries.

Third party

sets example

With the Internet, a little imagination and a lot of gumption, citizens can come up with anything these days, even a third political party to take on the Democrats and Republicans.

As reported in Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times, two Oak Harbor residents, David Jon Sponheim and Sarah Hart, have teamed up to form America’s Third Party. He’s running for President of the United States of America; she’s running for Washington State Senate.

The name isn’t catchy, but it’s to the point. A lot of voters are looking for a third party, so when they see “America’s Third Party” on the ballot, they might take a flyer on one of its candidates.

Both major parties have done an exemplary job of alienating voters in recent years. The best thing Democrats have going for them is they’re not Republicans, and vice versa. Voters are tired of choosing between two rotting apples and many of them are looking for something fresh.

America’s Third Party is hardly radical. Its founders take rational approaches to complex issues: Banning assault rifles, not all firearms; no Social Security payments to the rich; and taking various environmental actions, for example. They propose no easy solutions to problems but seem genuinely interested in discussion and new ideas. Their approach is refreshing compared to the combative postures of the major parties.

America’s Third Party won’t be winning any elections this year, but the spirit behind it far exceeds the boundaries of Whidbey Island. If dissatisfied Americans of all political stripes can come together in favor of rational solutions to difficult problems, then we could have a third party that would be a force in national politics. Enough so at least that the Democrats and Republicans might start thinking of what’s best for the American people for a change, not what’s best for their parties.

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