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State, county-run ferry systems face problems with aging fleets

A failed generator on the Christine Anderson shut down ferry service out of Steilacoom on Saturday. Steilacoom II, its sister-ship, was also out of service.

STEILACOOM, Wash. — On Saturday, the Christine Anderson ferry run by Pierce County was out of service for the majority of the day. A down generator was the cause according to an extensive post from Pierce County Planning & Public Works.

The ferry runs between Steilacoom and Anderson Island.

Update as of 3:41 p.m.: Pierce County Ferry service will resume with the 3:50 p.m. departure from Steilacoom. Service...

Posted by Pierce County Planning & Public Works on Saturday, June 3, 2023

The day-long inconvenience would not have been as impactful if both ferries were running, but they aren't. Steilacoom II had to undergo extensive repair work after an inspection found unexpected damage. Pierce County issued a statement about the repairs: 

"During dry dock inspections for the Steilacoom II, the contractor working for Pierce County discovered unexpected damage to the #2 end propeller shaft that required extensive repair work to correct. Repair of this damage is complete but delayed the overall drydock project.

As a result, the additional departures on Friday, Sunday, and Monday are canceled for the weekends of May 26, June 2, and June 9.

To help meet the peak-season demand, we are encouraging visitors and commuters to use the walk-on service.

The Steilacoom II is now expected to return to Steilacoom on June 14. Once back at the Steilacoom Terminal, HMS crews will need a few days to restock the boat with safety equipment and ensure it is ready for service. Thank you for your patience during this time."

"Oftentimes, it's a barrier in our life," Alden Allport, who lives in Steilacoom and grew up on Anderson Island, said about the ferries.

Allport, now a college student at UW-Tacoma, said you're cognizant of time when you depend on ferries to get to work and school. However, Allport says some things you can't prepare for when they're out of your control.

"There's a hydraulic system that runs the ferry dock that lowers and raises the deck and that's been a frequent problem," he said.

Ongoing issues with ferry systems, county and state-run, are not new. This past week, Governor Jay Inslee was in Seattle where he talked to KING 5 about Washington State Ferries.

"I've been arguing to get more boats and fortunately the legislature this year appropriated more," Inslee said. "We have five more boats coming. We want to get them online as fast as humanly possible. Our fleet is very fragile. We don't have enough boats. Bottom line, we don't have enough boats."

Allport hopes the Christine Anderson generator failing and what happened afterward will help elected leaders see the need for improved infrastructure for all ferry systems.

While Washington State Ferries and county-run ferry systems, like Pierce County, are different, both run off a mix of federal, state, and local dollars. As expenses continue to rise, fare price hikes will more than likely need to happen to help make up the difference.


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