State’s newest ferry, the Salish, to begin Port Townsend-Coupeville route in July

COUPEVILLE — The state’s newest ferry is just about ready to sail.

Delivered to the Department of Transportation on Thursday by builder Todd Pacific Shipyards, the Salish will restore two-boat service to the Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry run in July.

The new ferry was in the Everett

Shipyard for months while work on its deck covering, furniture and other interior features was completed.

The 64-car, $68 million ferry has received inspection certification by the U.S. Coast Guard, and now is scheduled to be towed to the Dakota Creek boat building facility in Anacortes and then to Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island for final work on landing lights, rescue boat outfitting and finish work on handrails.

After the modifications, crews will take onboard training and sea trials, first around Puget Sound and later on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.

If all goes well, the Salish is scheduled to begin regular service in July, joining its sister ship, the Chetzemoka, in time for the busy summer season.

“Salish” refers to the Coast Salish Indian tribes of the region and is also the geographical name of the inland marine sea comprised of Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Georgia Strait, and Puget and Possession sounds.

In a press release from the state, Todd Pacific Shipyards president Steve Welch said he believes the Salish will serve millions of passengers for the next 50 years or more.

The Port Townsend-Coupeville route had two boats running during the summer for years until 2007, when the aging ferries on the route, Steel Electrics, were pulled from service when they were found to be unsafe.

The four ferries in the Steel Electric class, built in the 1920s, were pulled off the waters following an investigation by The Herald that found the vessels were being used to carry passengers despite extensive corrosion and cracks on the hulls. The vessels did not meet federal standards in place since the 1950s.

The route had no service at all for two months, and then only one smaller boat — the 54-vehicle Steilacoom on loan from Pierce County — for nearly three years. The 64-vehicle Chetzemoka began sailing the route in November.

Also today, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, all Democrats from Washington, and other members of Congress introduced a bipartisan bill in both chambers of Congress asking for money to improve and add ferries throughout the country.

More than 100 million passengers take ferries every year in at least 38 states, often between work and home, and ferries are critical to the economies of many communities, Murray’s office said.

However, according to the federal Department of Transportation, a quarter of ferry systems nationwide are 40 years or older and 5 percent are 60 years or older.

The proposed U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act works to improve this aging fleet, Murray’s office said.

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