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WSF chief says budget protects ferries from cuts through 2015

Washington State DOT Ferries Division Assistant Secretary David Moseley told a small crowd in Bremerton late last week that the agency he heads is in good shape for the next two years.

As a result of the 2013-2015 budget that passed during the regular session, WSF is funded to sustain current levels throughout the system. That means that a midday sailing between Bremerton and Seattle won’t be reduced and the last sailing of the night won’t be eliminated.

“That’s good news,” Moseley said. “To achieve that, the Legislature had to transfer about $130 million out of other transportation accounts into the ferry system to be able to maintain our current level of service.”

The Legislature, though, is in the midst of special sessions that could bring even better news to a lot of ferry users, Moseley said.

One of the packages that has passed the House Transportation Committee totals about $9.6 billion, of which about $1 billion is set aside for the ferry system. Moseley said an incremental gas tax of 10 cents for the next few years would fund a third 144-car ferry (two are already under construction), would provide money to fully fund and preserve terminals and would eliminate the need to transfer funds from other transportation accounts to subsidize ferries.

“This is my sixth Legislative session since I’ve become ferry director,” he said. “This is the first time I can come to our constituents, our customers, and say to you, if these bills get passed, I won’t say for the next 12 to 15 years (that) the ferry system is not financially sustainable. Those of you have been to these meetings before know, that’s pretty much a mantra I’ve had for the last six years.”

Moseley acknowledged that there is still a long road ahead before the massive transportation package could pass and noted that it will “be a heavy lift” for lawmakers. In part, that’s because there are some controversial projects involved, including the Columbia River Crossing bridge project in Vancouver.

“It will be a tough vote for many in the Legislature and I respect that,” Moseley said.

During the meeting at the Kitsap Conference Center last week, Moseley also talked about the possibility of converting some WSF vessels to liquified natural gas (LNG).

“We’ve been looking at that, really, for the last couple of years,” he said, noting that petroleum fuel is the primary component of the WSF budget and that, in terms of emissions, LNG is cleaner burning than diesel and better for the environment.

Moseley noted that fuel is his agency’s fastest growing expense, with fuel accounting for about 30 percent of the budget for 2011-2013, compared to 12 percent for the year 2000-2001. The fuel cost savings from moving from diesel to LNG could be as high as 40 to 50 percent at today’s pricing, he said.

“Right now, we’re going down two separate paths,” Moseley said.

He said there is a stakeholders group in place working with the Coast Guard to put together risk mitigation plans on how to implement LNG on ferries and final approval could come as early as this fall.

Moseley said the second and separate track his agency is pursuing follows a 2012 request from the Legislature to see if there is an opportunity for private financing to do the retrofit of WSF engines to see if industry will finance some or all of that cost. So far, Moseley said two manufacturers, Rolls Royce and Wärtsilä, have made proposals.

“There were weaknesses in both of those proposals and we have communicated with them, written both proposers letters about where their proposals fell short of the request for proposals and have asked them to come back to us on whether or not they can meet the requirements of the RFP,” he said.

“We have not finished those conversations yet, so I cannot tell you if that is going to be successful or not.”

Other topics during the meeting included ferries performance measures results, proposed rate increases associated with the new budget and the Coleman Dock removal project which will be heating up in the next few years.

 

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