Ferries are the victim of a financial storm | Ferry Fare | March

Reminder: Boats from Clinton will be diverted to Edmonds Friday through Sunday on March 18-20, 25-27 and April 1-3.

Access to State Route104 from Pine Street will be blocked so expect some chaos and backups on SR 104 but the normal Kingston boat waits.

A WASL test

Please review our biennial math quiz to the right.

If you answered “All of the above,” congratulations, you may have a promising career in a major state department!

Seriously, it’s easy to see the tidal wave of transportation “mega projects” that are engulfing the Department of Transportation. This became a perfect storm as DOT’s revenue went flat while mega project costs escalated.

For example, the Viaduct replacement was estimated to cost $2.4 billion and it’s now estimated to cost $4 billion. The widening of I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass was estimated at $388 million and it’s now $551 million. A study of 258 transportation mega projects found that the average cost overrun of bridge and tunnel projects is 34 percent.

Recall how the discovery of an ancestral burial ground set the Hood Canal Bridge replacement back a year and triggered a 23 percent cost overrun. DOT is in trouble.

Why cut ferries?

To survive the storm, the crew down in Olympia is jettisoning anything not nailed down, no matter how small. The $30 million per year needed to bankroll our ferry service is only 1.5 percent of DOT’s budget. But

Olympia has come up with a scheme to cut service, mothball a ferry, and impose a 10 percent fare hike with a fuel surcharge.

Ferry riders will be stuck between the DOT rock and WSF hard spot unless we persuade the Legislature, now, to turn this around.

Continued ferry cost growth of 4.7 percent per year (see the chart below) isn’t financially viable so there’s legislation to address this.

Labor reform

Not only are labor costs driving operating costs driver but also they got voters’ attention in the “Waste on the Water” TV series. It’s no surprise that there bills addressing collective bargaining, work rules, and benefits.

Contract negotiations have been stuck in a loop of negotiations that fail, then “unaffordable” arbitration decisions that can’t be funded. Last year’s legislation didn’t fix the process, so they’re taking another whack at it this year.

Since studies have long called out the same issues disclosed in “Waste in the Water,” legislation is also tackling: excessive boat crews, double and triple overtime, shift lengths and call-back times that create unneeded overtime, seniority rules that drive up travel costs, and benefits that are out of line with other state workers.

Management reform

By an informal count, in 1978 the Washington State Ferries management staff was 58. By 1999, it grew to 280 and in December it was 340. This November’s study recommended contracting technical work when needed instead of having a large in-house staff.

Although overhead has been cut by $6 million and $3 million in cuts are planned this year, these savings will be eaten up by 64-car ferries and fuel price cost increases. There are four bills, all with different management schemes, to bring about even bigger savings.

Boat building

Over the decade we need $215M for new ferries and $895M to preserve the old ferries and terminals. They’re two bills produce this cash.

The first charges riders a 25 cent surcharge per ticket for ferry construction. The second eliminates the Washington sales tax exemption for Oregon residents in all but the counties on the Oregon border.

Want more information? Have questions? Want to sign up for a ferry email list? Contact me at elliottmoore@comcast.net or (360) 297-2847.

Walt Elliott is a Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee member.