Gov. Jay Inslee has released his proposed 2023-25 budget that includes funding for ferry staffing, terminal improvements, boat maintenance and new vessels.
“It is pretty representative of where we are right now with staffing, but the new vessel funding may need to be adjusted, we just don’t know what the contract looks like yet,” 40th District State Sen. Liz Lovelett said of the proposed budget, adding that Washington State Ferry representatives appear to be comfortable with where the budget landed.
Lovelett, along with Rep. Debra Lekanoff and Rep. Alex Ramel, have worked hard to restore funding to WSF and have worked with the San Juan County Council to ensure the county’s needs are met.
The state has had to start the bidding process over again for the construction of the new boats as the original contractor’s offer was twice as much as the state’s engineers’ estimates.
Engineers are now working closely with bidders to keep the cost in alignment, according to Lovelett.
Meanwhile, funds to keep both the Tillikum and Sealth running are included among ferry maintenance items.
Lovelett added that recruiting has been going incredibly well with every single position filled in the latest round of hiring.
It will still take time for those new hires to work their way through training, but progress is being made, and as the training is complete, cancellations due to a lack of crew should start decreasing.
Ideas have been tossed around to alleviate some of the frustration and pain islanders feel not being able to get where they need to go, as the ferry system continues to suffer from delays and cancellations.
Some ideas included creating a ferry district. Boats are expensive, however, and a ferry district would only help the inter-island routes because the Anacortes run includes more than one county.
‘It’s a much bigger project than people might think,” San Juan Council member Cindy Wolf explained. To run such a district, the county would be competing with the same talent pool as WSF which would not make sense. There have been a number of conversations with WSF since major disruptions earlier in the fall, according to Wolf.
“What we need is really clear communication about what they can and can’t deliver,” she said, adding that the only reason to work around WSF is if it gets to the point where it obviously is not getting better.
“We are just trying to work with what we have right now, and prioritize reliability over expanded service,” Lovelett said.
With electrical ferries on the horizon, part of the budget also includes studying terminals and implementing infrastructure for charging stations.
“We are going to be taking a look at the full picture of what [electrification] looks like over time,” Lovelett said.
Starting the second or third week of January there will be many workshops and discussions and the budget will work its way through congress and not be voted on until the end of the legislative session, according to Lovelett.
WSF is holding two virtual town hall meetings, the first Jan 11, and the second Jan 12. Both will cover the same topics.
To register to attend, visit https://wsdot.wa.gov/travel/washington-state-ferries/about-us/community-participation
To view Gov. Inslee’s budget visit https://ofm.wa.gov/budget/state-budgets/gov-inslees-proposed-2023-25-budgets