• State says seven ferries out of service points to need for new vessels

    By: Graham Johnson

    Updated:

    At Vigor Industrial's Seattle shipyard, workers are keeping Washington's aging ferry fleet afloat.

    "Like people, the older you get, the more maintenance you need or the more things you find wrong with yourself," said Dave Visneski, Washington State Ferries' ship construction manager.
    Shipyard workers found a lot wrong with the Elwha when the vessel arrived in April.

    "When we removed some of the tile and decking, we found bad steel," Visneski said.

    There was so much bad steel that 1,200 square feet had to be replaced.

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    Shipyard work first expected to cost $2.5 million dollars ballooned to $25 million.

    WSF tries to run all of its boats for 60 years and projects 13 ferries will need replacement in the next two decades.

    "We don't have a deep bench. We have one official backup vessel," said Ian Sterling, of WSF.

    He spoke beneath the ferry Puyallup, which is in dry dock at Vigor.

    At 19 years old, the Puyallup is relatively new, but even it ran all summer with one engine broken down.

    "It has four engines, can safely operate on two or three, but obviously something you want to get in and get addressed as soon as you can," Sterling said.

    The Puyallup, Kittitas and Yakima are all out of service for Coast Guard-required maintenance.

    The 51-year-old Hyak is getting generator work.

    The Issaquah is undergoing engine repairs and a steering upgrade.

    The Salish is out of service after it ran aground, and drawn-out work on the Elwha is finally almost finished.

    "Kind of unprecedented territory right now. We have seven vessels out of service," Sterling said.

    The ferry system has cut all service to Sidney, British Columbia, and has reduced runs in the San Juan Islands.

    So far, Puget Sound commuting routes have been spared.

    "If we were to lose another vessel for another reason, for a mechanical issue or whatever, it's a real problem," Sterling said.

    It's also a problem the ferry system is eager to talk about, because officials will ask the legislature next year to fund five new ferries, like the four most recently built.

    The state estimates five new ferries would cost around $160 million each.

    The ferry system's recently-finished long-range plan calls for a total of 16 new vessels by 2040.

    The entire package of capital improvements, including some new terminals and ticketing systems, is expected to cost $7.6 billion over the next 22 years.
     

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