(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA2) announced the introduction of the U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009 at a press conference in the Capitol. This bill would dramatically increase federal support for the country’s ferry system, and direct millions of dollars to ferry systems in Washington state.
“The U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009 makes make a strong investment in our nation’s ferry systems, which provide a critical lifeline for millions of commuters across the country,” said Senator Patty Murray. “This bill would also give a boost to the economy by creating jobs directly, as well as by increasing productivity and making investments in long term economic growth. We understand the importance of ferries in Washington state, and I am proud to stand here with my colleagues as we work to strengthen this critical link in our nation’s transportation system.”
The U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009 would invest $200 million a year in funding for ferry systems across the country starting in Fiscal Year 2010, and running through Fiscal Year 2015.
“Ferry transportation is vital to the State of Alaska,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “The Alaska Marine Highway system serves 30 communities along routes that total more than 3,000 miles. Ferries provide vital transportation for residents and visitors to many of Alaska’s remote coastal communities. This bill will increase funding for our nation’s public ferry systems at a time when many of our vessels are aged and in need of replacement. Alaska has recently initiated a new ferry vessel replacement program. Thus, the timing on providing increased federal funding for ferry systems is particularly important, and I look forward to supporting this legislation.”
“In Washington state and in many parts of the country, ferries connect communities to keep our economy moving,” said Representative Rick Larsen. “Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the country and carries over 25 million riders annually. For thousands of my constituents, ferries offer the only practical way to get to work and return home. The U.S. Ferry Investment Act will strengthen our federal commitment to ferries to create jobs, invest in public safety and help build a foundation for long-term economic growth.”
"In the Pacific Northwest, our ferry system may not consist of paved roads, but it is definitely an integral and critical part of our national highway system," said Senator Maria Cantwell. "Washington state's ferry system serves as a large commuter transit system for the Puget Sound. This bill will increase the overall support for ferry systems nationally and distribute the funds more equitably."
The funding would be divided into two parts. Half of the money ($100 million a year) would be distributed according to a formula that takes into account straightforward factors such as how many passengers use the ferry system each year, how many vehicles are carried, and how many total miles the routes contain. The other half ($100 million a year) would be distributed at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation using a competitive process.
“The federal government rightfully invests in roads, bridges and rail,” said David Moseley, Director of Washington State Ferries. “I’m glad that Senator Murray and Representative Larsen are pushing this critical investment in our ferries, because they are our maritime highways and our bridges across the water. It’s time they were treated equally in transportation funding.”
In addition to the funding changes, the bill also includes the following additional ways to strengthen ferry systems across the country:
- Makes ferry systems eligible to compete for funding under the Clean Fuels Grant Program.
- Establishes a Ferry Joint Program Office within U.S. DOT to coordinate federal programs (DOT, DHS, etc.) affecting ferry and ferry facility construction, maintenance, operations and security, and to promote ferry transportation as a component of the U.S. transportation system.
- Requires U.S. DOT to ensure the National Ferry Database is consistent with the database maintained by the Federal Transit Administration.
- Authorizing funding to establish a National Ferry Transportation Institute at a college or university. The institute is directed to conduct research, training, and develop models and recommendations to improve the operation and safety of ferry systems in the U.S.