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Seaquist preaches ferry gospel

The Washington State Legislature probably won’t provide new support for the Washington State Ferries during its upcoming session, so ferry advocates are targeting 2011 as the time when it will receive significant new funding, according to information presented to the Port Orchard City Council on Tuesday.

“We have a ferry system that is old and unreliable,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor). “The fleet is small, and in bad repair. Bremerton suffers in particular, because every time someone is missing a ferry for some reason it gets pulled off of the Bremerton run and it cuts their service.”

When Bremerton boats are “borrowed” it begins a domino effect that impacts Port Orchard, forcing delays in the foot-ferry commute. Seaquist doesn’t necessarily agree that Bremerton commuters are second class citizens but acknowledges that “the people in Bremerton certainly feel that way.”

Port Orchard’s second ferry connection comes through Southworth, which is also on the bottom of the priority list.

Seaquist said that many commuters travel to Southworth knowing that if the lines are too long they will drive through Tacoma to get to Seattle.

This process, which many commuters have now accepted, saps time and resources.

“A lot of your constituents would get better jobs in Seattle if they had a reliable way to get there,” Seaquist told the council.

In addition to the Port Orchard City Council, Seaquist is bringing the same message to other boards in Kitsap County.

The 2010 session, which is 60 days in duration, will not address issues in as much depth as the 90 day sessions held in odd-numbered years.

“We need to wait until the beginning of a new budget cycle before making any significant changes,” Seaquist said. “The 2011 session will be the first opportunity to address these serious issues.”

Seaquist said WSF’s turmoil began with the decrease of car tab fees brought about by I-695 in 2000.

More recently, its share of the gas tax has decreased.

This is due not only to poor economic conditions but the move toward more fuel-efficient vehicles and transportation alternatives.

Seaquist repeated what has become familiar to his constituents, a desire to build new boats and reduce WSF administrative overhead.

He hopes that the new funding can be secured before a serious accident occurs.

Seaquist feels that keeping passenger costs low is a requirement for the system’s success.

“We should be involved in developing the ferry system that we need for the area to grow,” Seaquist said. “We need to build one of the 144-car boats as soon as possible. We also need to hold the ferry system’s feet to the fire when it comes to passenger costs. They have a 70 percent farebox recovery rate, which is higher than it should be.”

Waiting until 2011 does not mean that the funding will be easier to acquire, according to Seaquist.

“I think the economy will recover very, very slowly,” he said. “In 2011, we will still be looking at a very austere funding climate. And we need to get used to these new funding levels, because it’s never going to go back to where it was before.”

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