Washington State Ferries was shown what they termed a status quo budget proposal by that state’s governor earlier this month.
That’s good news for Sidney, as it means there will be none of the ferry service reductions proposed earlier in the fall. Washington State Ferries had floated the idea of reducing the winter shutdown by another two months to save money.
Lars Erickson, communications director of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), said the governor’s budget means their department holds the line, compared to the previous fiscal year.
Melissa Johnson, operations policy advisor for WSDOT and the Sidney, B.C. Terminal Manager, added that proposed budget supports the current level of service.
Johnson and security manager Helmut Steele were in Sidney Dec. 15 and gave the local town council an overview of 2014 and a preview of things to come in 2015.
“We have growing traffic on our special route,” Johnson said, referring to the Sidney-Anacortes route.
“Since 2007, there have been more Canadians entering the U.S. (than the other way around),” she explained. “This is vital information that people, especially legislators, need to know.”
She said Washington State Ferries (WSF) is the largest ferry system in the U.S. and carried an estimated 22.8 million passengers and 10 million vehicles in the last fiscal year. Johnson said they’ve been able to welcome that many by keeping their fares comparable to those offered by the Coho Ferry and even B.C. Ferries.
With 450 sailings each day (total, from Seattle, Anacortes, the San Juan Islands and Sidney), Johnson said they provide steady employment for 1,770 people.
“We’re third in the world for the number of annual passengers.”
This year, Johnson said WSF will build their second new vessel, replacing some of their older vessels. None of the new vessels (they will build a total of three) will make the Sidney to Anacortes run. Johnson said crews and ferries that do ply international waters must be specially trained and outfitted.
Steele, security boss for WSF for the last 10 years, said they have pumped $38 million into security since 2004. He was quick to point out that there have been no specific threats in regard to the ferry service.
That said, Steele pointed out they take security seriously and work closely with agencies like Transport Canada, the RCMP, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Washington State Patrol.
Sidney, in the meantime, is expanding its international ferry terminal. A new toll booth is under construction — estimated to be done by the time the WSF service resumes on March 22, after its regular winter shutdown which commenced on Dec. 27.