Gregoire proposes cuts to WSF service

On Dec. 18, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed her 2009–11 state budget, closing a projected $5.7 billion shortfall through a combination of program reductions, suspension of state employee, teacher and care worker salary increases, pension changes, increased federal contributions and the use of the state’s rainy day fund.

Among those reductions was the recommendation to cut the level of service for all Washington State Ferries routes, including eliminating the Sidney run.

The new budget would take effect on July 1, 2009, and according to Ed Sutton, chair of the Ferry Advisory Committee for San Juan County, “since that service is about to be discontinued on Jan. 4, my guess would be that that service might not be restarted in the spring. What that means for us is that our domestic route will lose a boat year-round.”

Sutton continued, “We need to reassess our needs and work with the governor’s staff to recreate a service structure that addresses our most critical needs and be realistic about the overall level of service on a daily basis – and in a different context, a weekly basis and a seasonal basis.”

On Dec. 19, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Ferries Division (WSF) released its draft long-range plan for services and investments through 2030 for Washington’s marine transportation system.

“The draft plan comes a historic point in marine transportation,” said David Moseley, Ferries Division Assistant Secretary. “Demand for ferry service is projected to increase as population in ferry-served communities grows, but the system is constrained by tight financial resources, limited vehicle carrying capacities during peak periods, and aging vessels and terminals.”

The draft plan puts forward two options for consideration:

· Plan A. This option assumes that the State will continue in its current role as owner, operator, and principal funder of ferry services in the Puget Sound region. Current level of service remains with operational strategies implemented over time and several new vessels coming online. This plan contains a significant budget shortfall that will require new revenues.

· Plan B. This option recognizes that the State may not be able to provide new revenues to meet the evolving needs of all ferry customers and communities, and looks at marine transportation very differently. It proposes an alternative where the State takes responsibility for the core marine highway system and a locally-funded entity or entities would take responsibility for a new marine transit system. This option also assumes operational strategies would be implemented over time. It also contains a budget shortfall, but it is significantly smaller than Plan A.

In January 2009, WSF will hold public hearings on the draft long-range plan. The hearings are an opportunity for the public to learn more about the two options for consideration and to provide feedback. Public comments received will help inform the final plan, which will be provided to the State Legislature on Jan. 31. The format for the hearings is a 30-minute presentation followed by a 90-minute public comment period.

There will be a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 15, 11:35 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. aboard the inter-island ferry.

The draft may be viewed online at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/planning/ESHB2358.

To comment on the draft long-range plan you can attend a public hearing, e-mail wsfplanning@wsdot.wa.gov or write to Washington State Ferries, Attn. Joy Goldenberg, 2901 3rd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121.