Ranker speaks to Washington State Transportation Commission about summer ferry interruptions

The Washington State Transportation Commission held a meeting to discuss summer ferry service disruptions and other transportation issues throughout the San Juan Islands on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who met with the Washington State Secretary of Transportation and officials from Washington State Ferries (WSF) before testifying to the commission meeting, released this statement:

“Our communities rely on the economic activity generated during the busy summer tourist season. Over the course of this summer, we experienced 22 days of lowered capacity or loss of sailings. Any delay or shortage of ferry runs is a major disruption to an already strained system. This summer’s disruption has caused undue stress on families, businesses and visitors to the San Juan Islands.

“The disruption to the regular schedule and to the reservation system resulted in economic loss to the communities that rely on summer tourism to sustain their businesses and support our communities. A poll of Orcas, San Juan and Lopez Island Chambers of Commerce members revealed financial losses to 73.6 percent of members due to the disruption.

“Working closely with the Secretary of Transportation, assistant secretary of WSF and the Washington State Transportation Commission, we are finding solutions to avoid this situation in the future.

“The ferry reservation service was a major source of frustration. The system is unable to accommodate a change to the schedule resulting in a complete freeze of the system.

“The Anacortes/San Juan Islands route has some of the oldest vessels in the ferry system – Tillikum (1959), Hyak (1967) and Elwha (1967) – that require substantial funds for preservation and maintenance. Unfortunately, we have found the preservation requests in the Governor’s budget are dramatically less than what is needed. According to WSDOT, the Elwha and Hyak need over $30 million each to appropriately preserve and maintain them, but the budget requests came in at $3.4 million and $1.5 million. While it is the Legislature’s responsibility to fund our ferries, the actual needs for the system must be requested in the future.

“Communications from WSF, WSDOT and elected officials needs better coordination and answers for customers. Customers need to know that even during a crisis the ferries may be delayed but the islands are not closed.

“It is critical that we continue to support the ferry system as the transportation backbone of the San Juan Islands. I will work with WSF and WSDOT to get the appropriate resources to update and fix the reservation system, preserve and maintain our existing fleet and improve communications during unforeseen breakdowns and schedule changes.

“We need our system ready to handle the busy summer season so residents can live their lives comfortably, businesses can succeed and visitors can see what makes our island communities so special – encountering nature on a whale watching trip, visiting the county fair or enjoying a music and art festival – without a nine hour wait at the dock.”

Watch the Sounder for more details about the commission’s Friday Harbor meeting.