Federal officials pass over Washington for ferry stimulus spending

OLYMPIA — Washington State Ferries on Tuesday got shut out of $60 million in federal stimulus money to build ferries and terminals, angering the U.S. senator who inserted those dollars in the massive economic recovery package.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., spoke with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood shortly after learning the nation’s largest ferry system wouldn’t get any of the funds.

“She clearly wasn’t happy. She expressed her disappointment and wanted to know what happened,” said Alex Glass, Murray’s spokeswoman. “The secretary promised an expedited review of the decision-making process.”

Only one project in Washington received any money: Skagit County got $750,000 to construct a new terminal for the Guemes Island ferry in Anacortes. Some money also will go to expand service.

By comparison, $7.1 million is going to Detroit for a new downtown wharf, $3 million to the Virgin Islands for new boats and $690,000 to land-locked Kentucky for boats and a terminal.

Nineteen states and one U.S. territory will share in the $60 million of competitive grants announced Tuesday by LaHood.

Washington’s Department of Transportation submitted 11 requests totaling about $56 million, of which two came from its ferry system. One was for $26 million to replace the Anacortes terminal and the other for $9 million to refurbish the Hyak.

“The projects we selected will help put people back to work and at the same time offer more access to areas that lack transportation options,” LaHood said in a prepared statement. “It is about providing more travel choices to people from communities that need it the most.”

A press release from the federal agency states that most of the selected projects are located in economically distressed areas and priority was given to those that can be completed in two years or less.

It is not clear whether either of the Washington ferry system projects can be finished that quickly.

Murray wasn’t alone in her disbelief. So, too, were Gov. Chris Gregoire and ferry officials, who wondered aloud at how the nation’s largest ferry system could draw a financial bagel from the targeted fund,

“We are extremely disappointed by the news and we are looking for answers,” said Pearse Edwards, the governor’s communications director.

LaHood is familiar with the state’s ferries. He rode one from Seattle to Bremerton on a July 6 visit to Washington state.

And his agency hasn’t totally shut out the state ferry system from the federal stimulus.

Washington State Ferries is receiving $8.5 million through public transit funding. Those dollars are going into vessel and terminal preservation.

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