WA: Bills Would Let Kitsap Transit Adjust Borders for Ferry District

Feb. 10--OLYMPIA -- Local lawmakers are pushing bills in the state House and Senate to let Kitsap Transit bring a cross-Sound passenger ferry plan to voters.

It would be the third try. The agency was rebuffed on 61.3 percent of ballots cast in November 2003 and 54.5 percent in February 2007.

Votes came from across Kitsap Transit's public transportation benefit area -- the whole county. Support was poor in outlying areas where residents were unlikely to travel by ferry.

House Bill 2267 and Senate Bill 6171 clear the way for Kitsap Transit to create a smaller fast ferry district or districts within the transportation benefit area. Borders could be drawn around those most likely to use the ferries, thus more apt to tax themselves to pay for them.

Kitsap Transit already has a boat. The 117-passenger Rich Passage 1 has been stored at a Port Townsend boat yard since completing wake research in Rich Passage in November 2012 that determined it could operate without damaging shorelines.

The project received $5.4 million in federal grants for the boat and $8 million for the research, but no operating funds. The federal government recently allowed Kitsap Transit to spend money remaining from the research on an operating plan and two-year financial plan.

Bill sponsors emphasize they're not forcing fast ferry service on their constituents.

"We want to attract more jobs and more commuters to Bremerton, and a fast, reliable ferry to Seattle is one way to do it," said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, who sponsored the House bill with Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor. "I want to give Kitsap Transit a chance to make the case for passenger-only ferry service to the voters, and that's exactly what this bill does."

Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, is the prime sponsor of the Senate bill. Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, also are signed on.

The bill lays out how a fast ferry district could be created. Then it's up to people to decide whether the service is important enough to them to support. "It is an important issue to our area and it is all designed for voter approval at each step of the way," Angel said.

Kitsap Transit currently receives eight-tenths of 1 percent of local sales taxes for its bus operations. The bills would allow a ferry district, which also would be governed by Kitsap Transit, to draw up to six-tenths of 1 percent more.

Another option is a parking tax, paid by drivers who park in commercial lots or by lot operators themselves.

A passenger ferry district must present to voters an investment plan that includes how it intends to operate service and buy boats and docks, terminals it will serve, and revenues to be generated from fares and local taxes.

Both measures have passed out of committee and are awaiting full votes in their chambers.

Copyright 2014 - Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.

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