Washington State Ferries is floating a proposal to commission 16 new ferries, grow its fleet by four boats, shift vessels to hybrid-electric power and make improvements to ferry terminals as part of $7.6 billion of capital projects around Puget Sound over the next two decades.
In a draft of its long-range plan released this week, WSF said the lion’s share of that funding ($5.5 billion) would be dedicated to new vessel construction and preservation of existing vessels. Work on ferry terminals over that period account for about $1.8 billion.
The plan identifies $6.7 billion of projected capital and operating costs that don’t have funding yet. Historically that shortfall has been covered through appropriations made by the Legislature, the report said.
Among the plan’s recommendations:
New vessels and vessel upgrades
* The state's existing contract with shipbuilder Vigor would be extended to construct five more Olympic-class vessels as soon as possible, two as relief vessels and three to replace vessels due to retire.
Building more of those vessels would allow the state to get boats on the water sooner than if it decided to use a new design: Ferries estimates it would take up to seven years to design and build a vessel in a new class. The state also likes the versatility of the Olympic-class vessels, as their size and capacity mean they can work just about every route in the system.
* By 2040, WSF proposes to retire and replace 13 vessels (Hyak, Tillikum, Elwha, Kaleetan, Yakima, Issaquah, Kitsap, Kittitas, Spokane, Walla Walla, Cathlamet, Chelan and Sealth). By then each of those boats would be at or near 60 years old, the age at which WSF plans to retire its vessels. After the five new Olympic-class vessels are finished, build four new 124-car vessels and either seven new 144-car vessels or two 202-car vessels and four 144-car vessels.
“We’re looking at a 30 percent increase in (riders) in the next 20 years,” said WSF spokesman Ian Sterling. “Just to maintain the fleet that we have, we have to build a lot of new vessels.”
* New vessels would be built to be powered by hybrid-electric power and with flexible passenger cabin spaces that can grow and shrink with demand. On Bremerton and Bainbridge ferry routes, passenger capacities could be increased by 300 and 600 per vessel, respectively, through the addition of life rafts and the enclosure of deck space.
* The fleet would grow from 22 to 26 total vessels by 2040. Additional relief vessels would allow more breathing room for both unplanned and planned vessel work. Additional vessels would allow WSF to grow planned maintenance and preservation time for vessels from 8 weeks a year currently to 12 weeks.
“We’ve seen this the last several summers,” Sterling said. “Every single summer if a vessel goes out, it takes your one spare, if you’re lucky to have one at all, and you’re hanging on by a thread.”
* Three Jumbo Mark II-class vessels (Puyallup, Tacoma, Wenatchee) would be converted to use hybrid-electric power. The three Kwa-di Tabil-class boats (Chetzemoka, Kennewick, Salish) would be converted to use hybrid-electric power along with propulsion system upgrades. A vessel electrification program would begin with the Tacoma, on the Bainbridge-Seattle route between 2019 and 2021, accompanied by Bainbridge and Seattle terminals being equipped to support electric charging.
* On the Edmonds-Kingston route, the Puyallup would be converted to hybrid-electric power and it would operate on all-electric power in 2023. Two long-term options will be considered: Scenario A, bring on three smaller 144-car ferries to serve the route for increased service; Scenario B, use two 202-car vessels on the route (currently a 188-car vessel and a 202-car vessel serve the route) while maintaining the current levels of service.
* Twenty-two of the proposed 26 vessels would be converted to plug-in hybrid electric power, with some capable of full electric operation, leaving just four vessels on solely diesel power. With the move, WSF estimates it would be able to cut its fuel consumption from 17 million gallons in 2018 to 4 million in 2040.
* IT upgrades would include upgraded ticketing and reservations systems that could work with mobile devices, Good To Go! passes and next generation ORCA cards; automatic vehicle-length detection and passenger counting systems; and replacements for vessel communications systems, which would allow WSF to reintroduce Wi-Fi service on vessels.
* An expanded reservation system would be considered for busy periods like weekends and holiday periods on all routes that don’t currently use such a system, except for the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route.
* Further analysis would be given to demand-based pricing, in which fares would be higher during a route’s peak hours.
* On the Southworth/Vashon/Fauntleroy route, add another vessel slip to the Southworth terminal, potentially in partnership with Kitsap Transit for its passenger-only ferry service. Extend the summer service schedule by adding more weekend hours in May and October with a 124-car vessel and enhance winter service by adding a third 124-car vessel. Add capacity by replacing the 90-car Sealth with a 124-car Issaquah-class vessel.
* Retire Issaquah-class vessels (Cathlamet, Chelan and Issaquah) early at 50 years old, because of reliability issues and steel degradation. Two new classes – at capacities of 124 cars and 144 cars – would be introduced.
For more information or to submit a comment, visit wsflongrangeplan.com. Ferries is also hosting a series of open houses on its draft plan, including stops in Bremerton on Sept. 20, on Bainbridge Island on Oct. 9 and in Kingston on Oct. 11.
A final version of the plan will be submitted to the Legislature in January.