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Washington State Ferries plans to replace half its vessels, expand fleet by 2040

The Washington state ferry Tacoma crosses the Puget Sound in view of the Olympic mountains behind Thursday morning, Dec. 6, 2018, in Seattle. Washington State Ferries submitted its long-range plan to the Legislature last week.

Washington state plans to phase out half of its ferry fleet by 2040, according to a long-range plan submitted to the Legislature last week.

Washington State Ferries currently operates with 23 vessels. The agency — which is a division of the state Department of Transportation — plans to add 16 new ferries over the next 20 years. Of those, 13 will serve as replacements and three as backup boats. The agency looks to increase the total number of vessels to 26, according to the plan.

“WSF is committed to using the plan as a roadmap for the future and will be continually reviewing its progress and evaluating its goals and objectives,” Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said in a letter attached to the document.

The long-range document also includes a proposal for transitioning to a “green fleet,” using electric fuel hybrids that would reduce fuel consumption, emissions, noise and maintenance costs.

Add that to other changes to build more capacity, add more service and develop the workforce, and the whole long-range plan works out to cost about $14.6 billion over the next two decades.

The agency estimates most of that operating cost would be covered by existing taxes and fares. But lawmakers will have to make decisions in the near future when it comes to funding the capital costs.

Planning for Washington State Ferries’ 2040 plan started in 2017. It was informed by priorities identified through public input and advisory groups comprised of regional stakeholders. 

Washington state operates the nation’s largest ferry system. Each day, state ferries carry thousands of commuters across waterways in the Pacific Northwest region. In 2017, the system carried nearly 25 million riders through 10 routes and 20 terminals. And that number is only expected to increase.

A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.
Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.