Larsen calls for continued investment in U.S. ferry systems

Jul 28, 2011

Journal of the San Juans

July 28, 2011

With the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill close at hand, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen today called for continued investment in the nation's ferry systems in a letter sent to Chairman John Mica of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Nick Rahll, ranking member of the committee.

Along with 15 other cosigners, Larsen in the letter urged Mica and Rahill to make investment in the nation's ferry boats and terminal systems a priority as part of the surface and transportation bill's reauthorization.
In addition to Washington, states that rely on ferries as a vital transportation link include Alaska, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Maine.
"Ferries are a critical part of the Washington state economy and a lifeline to many folks who rely on them to commute and travel around the region," Larsen said. "I am pushing to continue investing in our nation's ferry system because we can't afford to shortchange this vital link in our public transportation system that keeps our economy moving and helps over 100 million passengers every year."
— Read the full text of the letter here:
Dear Chairman Mica and Ranking Minority Member Rahall:
We write to express our strong support for continuing the federal program for construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities (23 U.S.C. 147) in the surface transportation reauthorization bill.
Ferries are a critical part of the U.S. transportation system, carrying more than 100 million passengers annually in at least 38 states. They help ease congestion in major metropolitan areas, serve isolated communities and provide a critical emergency evacuation alternative.
They also serve as an interim solution when other transportation infrastructure fails, for example when the 9/11 attack disrupted the PATH train in New York City or when the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed part of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
Ferry transportation has often 'fallen between the cracks' in federal transportation policymaking because ferries don’t fit neatly into any of the major transportation modes or the corresponding modal administrations at USDOT.
The federal ferry program has been providing modest funding to public ferry systems for capital construction projects since ISTEA was enacted in 1991. Those funds have helped public ferry systems meet growing demand and replace aging vessels, terminals and other facilities —according to USDOT, 25 percent of U.S. ferry vessels are over 40 years old and five percent are over 60 years old.
If the federal ferry program is consolidated into the large formula programs, ferry systems may fall between the cracks again if they struggle to compete politically against major highway and transit interests, and cities and counties at the state and metropolitan levels.
Ferries deserve increased attention and support because they offer a relatively energy-efficient mode of travel, and for many communities ferries are truly a life-line as the only means of accessing work, medical services, and retail businesses.
The federal ferry program, while small, exists for very good reasons and deserves to be maintained.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.