Late-night ferry runs may be axed on Mukilteo route

OLYMPIA — Washington’s financially strapped ferry system is again eyeing cuts in service to save money.

Washington State Ferries suggests ending late-night runs between Mukilteo and Clinton and using one rather than two boats on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route for more weeks each year, according to recommendations sent to the governor this week.

The moves, which are suggested to take effect next September, are in a proposal the Department of Transportation submitted to Gov. Chris Gregoire. The governor will now consider whether to include them in the last transportation spending plan she will write and deliver to lawmakers in December.

Gregoire asked Washington State Ferries to pare $5 million from its operations for the two-year budget beginning July 1, 2013, according to a newsletter sent out Friday by David Moseley, assistant secretary of transportation in charge of ferries

Axing the final run out of Mukilteo and Clinton could net $934,000 in savings, according to the proposal. Cutting back to one boat between Port Townsend and Coupeville for an additional four weeks in the fall and four weeks in the spring would net $486,000 in savings on fuel and labor.

Other cuts are eyed for the Seattle-Bremerton and Point Defiance-Tahlequah routes. Service between the San Juan Islands and British Columbia might also be trimmed.

Many of these same moves were considered in 2011 and this year as state lawmakers and the governor wrestled with ways of keeping the ferry system afloat financially.

In the end, services cuts were avoided as a result of the agency slashing spending in other areas plus new revenue from a fare hike and lawmakers’ willingness to shift road dollars to ferry operations.

But Moseley, writing in the newsletter, said even with the reductions laid out in this week’s proposal the ferry system will still require $99 million in transfers from funds used to build roads and bridges. That’s on top of the $142 million in transfers it’s getting in the current budget.

“The transfers to WSF mean that there is less money available for other state transportation needs,” Moseley wrote. “The lack of funding is not just a ‘ferry’ problem. This is a problem felt by the entire department and will resonate with ferry customers and everyone who depends on highways in Washington.”

Whatever Gregoire submits to lawmakers in mid-December won’t be the last word, however. Washington’s next governor will craft his own transportation budget and could embrace or reject Gregoire’s offerings.

“I want to reiterate that the biennial budget process has only just started and we have a long road ahead before it is finalized,” Moseley wrote.

You can find the newsletter and proposal at the Washington State Ferries link at www.wsdot.wa.gov.

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

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