Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA 2nd), introduced a bi-partisan bill in both houses of Congress to improve and expand federal investment in ferries, a vital part of America's transportation system. More than 100 million passengers take ferries every year in at least 38 states, often between work and home. The transportation services offered by ferries are critical to communities across the country, and their regional economies. However, according to the Department of Transportation, one fourth of ferry systems are 40 years or older and five percent are 60 years or older. The U.S. Ferry Systems Investment Act works to improve this aging fleet, and the ferry infrastructure as a whole.
"Many residents in my home state of Washington depend on ferries to bring them to work and back home safely to their families, so they know the importance of a strong ferry system," said Senator Murray. "This bill will create jobs, promote economic growth, and make the necessary investments in our infrastructure to improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of our ferry systems."
"In Alaska, our ferry system is not an alternative route -- it's a primary method of transportation," said Murkowski. "The Alaska Marine Highway system totals more miles than the distance from Seattle to Miami. This bill is an economic engine and improves our way of life, from Dutch Harbor to Metlakatla."
"The Puget Sound ferry system is key to Washingtonians' daily lives and to our regional economy," Senator Maria Cantwell said. "The Washington state ferry system is the largest in the country, carrying more than 22 million passengers last year. This bill would invest in modernizing the fleet, boosting the local economy and ensuring the system remains an integral part of Washington state's transportation infrastructure for years to come."
"Every day the Alaska Marine Highway System keeps Alaska's coastal communities connected by turning waterways into roads," said Senator Begich. "It's not uncommon for an Alaskan in the Aleutians or Southeast to always have next week's ferry schedule memorized as ferries help families stay connected and serve vital business purposes. Improving our ferry systems will create jobs, grow commerce and keep Alaskans on the move."
"Ferries are a critical part of keeping the economy in Washington state moving as they carry commerce and commuters around the region," said Rep. Larsen. "Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the country and carries over 25 million riders annually. We must invest in our ferry system to create good jobs, promote long-term economic growth and help ensure that the folks who rely on ferries to get to work are traveling safely and efficiently."
The Act would invest $200 million a year in funding for ferry systems across the country starting in Fiscal Year 2012, and running through Fiscal Year 2018.
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.
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 (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.
* Authorizes 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.