Pierce County ferries receive funding boost from O’Ban legislation

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Sen. Steve O’Ban’s measure, Senate Bill 5307, during a formal ceremony Monday afternoon. The new law increases the amount that can be remitted to counties that operate their own ferry system from the state Department of Transportation. The funds, currently capped at $1 million, are split between Pierce, Skagit, and Whatcom counties. O’Ban’s legislation increases that amount to $1.8 million for the 2015-17 budget cycle.

“The current law has left Pierce County without a real increase in funding under the deficit reimbursement agreements since the early 1990s,” said O’Ban, who represents Piece County. “Our communities have seen population growth and increased local ferry use, but funding for maintenance and operation has not kept pace.”

Under the new law, future funding for deficit reimbursement will be indexed to inflation to adjust for future growth. The new measure is vital for Pierce County’s Anderson Island ferry that serves approximately 1,200 year-round residents. This year, Pierce County is expected to see an increase of up to $300,000 for ferry operations.

“The counties that operate their own ferries are providing a valuable service to their residents and taking pressure off of the state’s ferry system,” said O’Ban. “This is critical for our island communities, especially ferry service for Anderson and Ketron Islands. The law not only gives a needed boost to our community’s resources but is a longer-term solution that accounts for growth, and makes the county’s ferry system more financially stable.”

Creating more appropriate funding levels from the state ferry deficit reimbursement agreements will reduce the need for other funding sources such as increased fares. In fact, the new law stipulates that ferry systems must maintain the same fares charged as of January 1, 2015.