Morris plan for third new ferry wins House approval

Fees from vehicle registrations, titles would finance replacement for aging fleet

OLYMPIA – The state would update its aging ferry fleet with a new boat and save money on its construction under a bill approved by the House today, February 12, 2014.

“The average age of our fleet is approaching 50 years old,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, who sponsored the proposal. “We need to have boats that are built in the 21st century.”

The state’s ferry fleet – the largest in the nation – includes some boats that date back to the Eisenhower Administration. The state Department of Transportation has already contracted with Vigor Industrial to build two new 144-vehicle ferries at its Puget Sound shipyards. Morris’ bill would finance construction of a third boat, taking advantage of the worker skills, expertise and efficiency developed by Vigor and thereby saving millions on the cost. The state’s current transportation plan envisions the eventual construction of a fourth boat.

The measure, House Bill 1129, would set fees of $5 for each new or renewed vehicle registration and of $12 for each vehicle title transaction processed by country auditors or the state Department of Licensing, with that money going to the financing of a third new 144-vehicle ferry in the system’s Issaquah class. Those charges are now assessed and pocketed by the private licensing agents that many car and truck owners go to for registrations and title paperwork – but the transactions currently are exempt from the fees when they are performed by county auditors or the DOL.

Improvements to the ferry system are especially important to residents of the 40th Legislative District, which Morris, a Democrat, represents in the House, and which includes the San Juan Islands and the mainland coast from Anacortes to Bellingham. But Morris’ bill also drew support from Republican Rep. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla, whose Eastern Washington district includes no ferries.

“This is one Washington,” Walsh told the House. “We have to step up and recognize that these are assets to our state.”

The 62-36 vote for the bill moves it to the Senate.

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