OLYMPIA — A third 144-car ferry is the governor’s signature away from being built.
The Senate passed a bill Saturday that would furnish funding for a $123 million Olympic-class boat from increased licensing fees. It prevailed by a surprising 41-8 count. Locally, Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, voted for it; Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, was against.
The Tokitae will be christened March 20 at Vigor Industrial in Seattle and soon turned over to Washington State Ferries. It will join the Mukilteo-Clinton route in June. The Samish has been under construction for more than a year and will be delivered in early 2015. Its route status hasn’t officially been determined, but it and No. 3 will primarily be deployed on the San Juan Islands and Bremerton-Seattle routes.
Three new boats will allow WSF to retire the three Evergreen State-class ferries — Evergreen State, Tillikum and Klahowya — that are nearing the end of their 60-year lives.
Gov. Jay Inslee hasn’t seen the bill yet. It’ll take a couple of days to reach his office, said spokeswoman Lisa Harper.
“I give it a 95 percent chance of getting signed,” Rolfes said.
People already pay an extra $5 to renew tabs and $12 to renew titles at licensing subagents, who keep the money. The legislation would add the same amounts to what the Department of Licensing and county auditors collect, and direct it to the ferry.
Revenue from the new fees is expected to be about $11 million in the first year (2015) and $22.8 million per year for the four years after that. The money would be used to finance a bond.
Any fee increase proposal comes with a pushback in the Legislature. Bill proponents overcame it by emphasizing it’d be less expensive to build the third boat now while the assembly line is set up. She credited the Ferry Community Partnership of riders, leaders and boat builders for their lobbying efforts, singling out Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and former Councilman Adam Brockus.
“I almost started crying because it took so much work to get to that point, and to have so many colleagues affirm it was very rewarding,” Rolfes said. “We don’t get to celebrate very often on ferry issues, so it was really nice.”
Sheldon was one who couldn’t be won over by the assembly line rationale, though he agrees with it and that another 144-car ferry is needed.
“I don’t think the funding source will be well accepted by the public,” he said. “The public has been adamant about increased car tab fees.”
Sheldon would prefer to see construction funded through gas taxes.
Angel, Lent and Brockus said they spoke to senators from across the state. With no transportation revenue package on the horizon, they explained, the bill was needed to keep the assembly line running.
Seventy percent of those who answered an Angel survey said they’d pay to build the third ferry, said Angel, who wrote an amendment that commits excess fee revenue to building a fourth new boat instead of the operating budget. A fourth boat would enable WSF to keep a larger boat in emergency standby instead of the 34-car Hiyu.
“If we don’t pass it now, we’ll lose the 20 percent savings,” Lent said Monday, calling from Washington, D.C. We just wanted them to know how important it was to have that third boat. With this being built now, one will be on the Bremerton run. We’re preserving a marine highway and we’re pretty elated about it.”
A third 144-car ferry would put WSF ahead of its long-range plan, which calls for the first two this year and no others until 2027.
It is updating the plan and will be discussing potential changes during June community meetings, said spokeswoman Joy Goldenberg.