The Chelan is seen sailing on the Edmonds/Kingston route. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

The Chelan is seen sailing on the Edmonds/Kingston route. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

Wanted: 16 new ferries in the next 20 years

The ferry system’s long-term plan includes retiring 13 rust buckets and making the fleet green.

MUKILTEO — The water workhorses are aging.

More than half in the fleet of 23 Washington State ferries will be put out to pasture by 2040.

The agency has a long-term plan that calls for 16 new ferries in the next 20 years. These include 13 to replace vessels slated for retirement and three backup boats.

The plan includes recommendations for eventually turning the fleet green, with electric-fuel hybrids to reduce fuel use, emissions, noise and maintenance costs.

The agency submitted its plans to the Legislature on Thursday.

“There are no ferries right now in the pipeline,” Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said. “Going to Olympia, we think there’s a way to start building boats again. It takes a couple years. They cost money, and you’ve got to fund them.”

A new vessel costs in the range of $140 million to $160 million, he said.

The state’s newest ferry, Suquamish, was launched into service in October on the Mukilteo-Clinton route. The Olympic Class ferry, the fourth in its class, holds 144 vehicles and 1,500 passengers. It has Tier 4 diesel engines, the cleanest in the fleet.

So far.

“The electrification is the start of a new era,” Sterling said of the plan to add hybrids. “It’s good for the environment and great for taxpayers. It will pay for itself in fuel savings over time.”

The long-term plan included public input. More than 7,500 people participated in 32 meetings and two online open houses during the past 18 months.

“One thing we heard over and over was the need for new vessels,” Sterling said.

Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the United States. “We’re approaching 25 million riders last year,” Sterling said.

Summer is peak time, but routes stay busy year-round. The winter sailing schedule starts Sunday and continues through March 30. There are some route tweaks in the new quarter. Also, the ferries don’t sail the international route from Anacortes to British Columbia during the winter.

Riders are advised to use the WSDOT app and also check weather conditions for delays or cancellations.

Passengers on the Kingston-Edmonds ferry got a wild ride across Puget Sound during a recent December windstorm. Videos went viral of huge waves crashing into the rusty car deck of the Hyak, which joined the ferry service in 1967.

The Hyak is among the boats slated for retirement.

Old ferries are sold to the highest bidder. The Hiyu, a 50-year-old rust bucket, was transformed by its new owner into a floating entertainment venue on Lake Union, with a tiki bar and whiskey bar.

Another decommissioned boat is slated to go on the bidding block in the next year or so — in case owning a ferry is your fantasy.

Riders on the Mukilteo-Clinton route might notice some action on the waterfront. Work begins next week on the construction of the Mukilteo ferry terminal’s new passenger building, holding lanes, toll plaza and waterfront promenade. IMCO General Construction landed the deal with a low bid of $49.7 million.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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