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Legislators seek ferry system name change

Local lawmakers have pledged their commitment to keeping ferries running across Puget Sound. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
Local lawmakers have pledged their commitment to keeping ferries running across Puget Sound.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

Three local legislators have sponsored a bill to rename the Washington State Ferries as the Washington Marine Highway System in order to underscore its importance as an integrated part of the state transportation system.

“This is important because it makes a statement of accountability and responsibility,” said Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard). “It makes the system accountable the citizens and the government responsible for its funding.”

Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Fred Finn (D-Olympia) are local co-sponsors of the bill.

Angel said she got the idea from the state of Alaska, where she lived prior to moving to Washington.

“Alaska has the Alaska State Marine Highway System,” Angel said. “Alaskans understand the importance of their marine highway in the movement of cars, people and freight.”

Former Kitsap County commissioner candidate Jack Hamilton, who authored wrote a newspaper column advocating the renaming, had no prior knowledge of the bill Angel introduced but reacted with an enthusiastic “good for her.”

“It’s common sense to make the ferries a part of the highway system.” Hamilton said. “People in eastern Washington resist the idea of funding the ferries because they think it doesn’t affect them. But the ferries leaving from downtown Seattle, West Seattle and Edmonds are really extensions of Interstate 90, and should be supported as such.”

The bill will be referred to the House Transportation Committee for further consideration.

Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) said he had no knowledge of any traction for the bill in the Senate.

Kilmer said he was not involved in any potential sponsorship, and said he was concentrating on other ferry-related issues.

Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) said she would support the bill, but is also expending her legislative effort on other related issues. “There is always value in pointing out that the ferries are part of the highway system,” she said. “But if we just change the name, nothing else in the system will change.”

WSF is staying neutral on the proposal, according to spokesperson Marta Coursey.

If approved by the Legislature, WSF would need to institute several “rebranding” efforts, such as uniforms, signs and other material.

Coursey said there would be an undetermined coast to implement these measures.

Angel, meanwhile, has provided the most vocal support for the bill.

“I'm very concerned that because we think of the boats here in Washington as the ferry system the priority of funding gets placed on the back burner,” she said. “This legislation would give credibility and accountability to the importance and function of our state ferries. We have a marine highway system in Washington, and that’s how we need to consider it.”

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