By LAVENDRICK SMITH
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
OLYMPIA — The state Legislature passed a supplemental transportation budget that provides a boost to the Puget Sound ferry service, while funding pay raises to state troopers and providing some fixes to the traffic messes of Interstate 405.
The Legislature approved the new transportation spending plan with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers. It awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
The new budget allocates $44 million to Washington State Ferries to help pay for a new 144-vehicle Olympic-class ferry. The department announced plans in December to begin building its fourth Olympic-class ferry vessel, to be named the Suquamish. Additional funding from the supplemental budget and in the 2017-19 biennium goes toward completing the $122 million ferry.
“The historic transportation package we passed last year, combined with these new improvements, demonstrate a bipartisan commitment to providing Washington’s commuters and businesses with safe, reliable transportation and transit options,” Inslee said in a statement, noting the budget’s impact on reliability of the state’s ferry system. “These new investments help preserve our great quality of life and grow our economy.”
Construction on the new ferry is underway, and the vessel is expected to begin operating in 2018, though on which route is yet to be decided.
The Legislature is also providing $91 million to help finish construction of its third Olympic-class ferry vessel, Chimacum, which will serve the busy Seattle-Bremerton route in 2017. The first two vessels, the Tokitae and the Samish, are already operating and have primarily served on the Clinton-Mukilteo and Anacortes-San Juan Island routes, respectively, though their routes do change.
Washington State Ferries planned the construction of the four new Olympic-class ferries to replace an aging ferry fleet.
Ian Sterling, spokesman for Washington State Ferries, said the department likes to get 50 to 60 years of use from the ferries. The current project replaces ferries built in the 1950s and ’60s with vessels equipped to handle traffic needs of the growing region.
The system is the largest in America and is considered a key part of the state’s transportation network, as well as one of the state’s most beloved tourist draws.
“Our guys do an amazing job of keeping these things going for upward of 50 years,” Sterling said. “But if you had a Model T — a pretty cool car, just like some of our vessels are pretty cool — you wouldn’t drive the Model T on I-5 every day.”
(This story is part of a series of news reports provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Reach reporter LaVendrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter: @LaVendrickS)