Ferry fix to solve car-scraping problem

SEATTLE — Washington State Ferries began repairing its newest vessel Wednesday to prevent the bottoms of cars from scraping the ramp leading to the upper parking deck.

The temporary fix to the ramps of the Tokitae is to enable vehicles with low clearances and long wheelbases to reach the upper deck without bottoming out, a concern raised by lawmakers and workers since the boat began operation in June.

Work will only be done overnight while the 144-car vessel is out of service, Washington State Ferries officials said in an email Wednesday. It is expected to be finished Oct. 3.

Officials said the $66,000 cost will be covered through the contingency of the original construction contract with the shipbuilding firm, Vigor.

A Whidbey Island lawmaker welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, though she said it could have been avoided had senior ferry system managers heeded concerns from their employees.

Employees told Reps. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, about the scraping earlier this year. But senior ferry system managers told lawmakers in a March meeting not to worry.

“If they had listened to their crews in January they wouldn’t be making the fix today,” Smith said Wednesday.

“Having said that, I think it’s wise to engineer a fix and we need to appreciate the excellent work that the crews have done to mitigate the situation until a solution was found,” she said.

The state’s received three claims of scraping damage since the Tokitae went into service June 30, ferry officials said.

Capt. George Capacci, interim ferries chief in June, explained that on the Tokitae, the edge of the ramp is sharper than on other vessels with upper deck parking and that may increase the potential for scraping, he explained.

Regular service on the Mukilteo-Clinton will not be disrupted by the work, according to ferry officials.

The project involves the design, fabrication and installation of what ferry officials describe as eight “prototype inserts” on the upper and lower vehicle ramps. The purpose is to provide a smoother transition.

If the temporary inserts prove successful, permanent modifications will be made to the ramps when the boat is out of service for a scheduled maintenance period in December.

Repairs will involve use of loud equipment “that sounds like a giant jackhammer,” the email said. Residents of some waterfront communities may hear crews working overnight. To minimize the noise, crews will work on the vessel as it sails around Puget Sound.

The state is in the process of building two additional 144-car vessels. Both will be constructed with smoother ramps than the Tokitae, officials have said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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