Guest Commentaries

Investments in ferries, environment key to future

Moving Washington Ahead
March 2, 2022 at 5:15 a.m.

By Rep. Alex Ramel & Sen. Liz Lovelett

Millions of families rely on Washington’s ferries every year. For many of our state’s residents, especially here in the 40th legislative district, our marine highway system is an essential part of their daily commute to work, school, doctor’s appointments, or just visiting friends and family.

But over the last several years, our local residents have been forced to endure unprecedented service disruptions from severely delayed sailings and cancellations. While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly played a role in these disruptions, many of the challenges we’re facing right now have been years in the making.

In 2020, we formally established the Ferry Caucus within the Legislature to organize efforts to advocate for the funding we desperately need to replace our aging ferry fleet, reduce disruptions and improve overall service and reliability. After all, for families throughout Northwest Washington and the Salish Sea, this isn’t a matter of inconvenience — it’s about protecting their lives and livelihoods. And after many long talks and negotiations with our legislative colleagues, we have the opportunity to deliver.

Earlier this month, we unveiled the Move Ahead WA transportation package to not only repair, replace and rebuild our state’s aging infrastructure but to improve access to clean, sustainable multimodal transportation options throughout the state. The Move Ahead WA package aims to invest a historic $16 billion back into our communities over the next 16 years to address the challenges so many Washington families are facing right now — including significant investments in our ferries — WITHOUT raising the gas tax.

If it becomes law, the package will direct $1.3 billion toward the purchase and construction of four new hybrid-electric ferry vessels, an additional $193 million for the conversion of two existing vessels to hybrid-electric, and terminal electrification projects.

Also noteworthy is a $14 million investment of funds available from carbon pricing legislation to replace the Guemes Ferry Boat with a hybrid-electric vessel. Not only would these measures improve service reliability throughout the region, but they will also allow us to significantly reduce our impact on the environment and protect our communities from the looming threat of climate change.

Move Ahead WA also includes the funding we need to finally move from seasonal-based hiring practices to year-round recruitment and targeted hiring efforts, while expanding opportunities for technical assistance and apprenticeships with a focus on women, people of color, veterans and other historically disadvantaged candidates. And, as one of our favorite parts of the transportation package, children 18 and under will be able to ride our ferries and all other public transit, for free.

While funding our ferries is certainly one of the highest priorities for our region, that’s not all Move Ahead WA will provide. The package also includes $3 billion for the preservation and maintenance of our existing transportation infrastructure like roadways, highways and bridges. Another $3.1 billion will support new transit programs and projects, like rail and improved bus service. 

And importantly, $5.4 billion to reduce our fossil fuel pollution through state and local de-carbonization projects, carbon emission reduction grants, sustainable aviation grants and expanding access to electric vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure — with a new EV goal for 2030. These investments in both our present and future needs are possible thanks to the passage of the Climate Commitment Act last session.

We have been working tirelessly with our legislative colleagues to secure the transportation and infrastructure funding that the families of the 40th legislative district deserve, and that’s what the Move Ahead WA package represents. We still have a lot of work to do over the coming weeks to get this funding across the finish line but know that we will be fighting for you every step of the way.

State Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham) was appointed to the Legislature in 2020 and currently serves on the House Environment & Energy, Finance, Transportation, and Rules Committees and serves as Deputy Whip of the Majority Caucus.

State Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes) was appointed to the Legislature in 2019 and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, and a member of the Senate Housing & Local Government and Transportation Committees.

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