By Jeff Chew, Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Work on the first of the two 64-car ferries could start as early as November, and the ferries could be completed in mid-2010, depending upon how soon the state awards a contract and construction begins, said Hadley Greene, state ferries communications manager.
Bids will be opened Nov. 6, she said.
"The current schedule said that first construction would start upon contract award, and take 18 months," Greene said.
She added that the second ferry would have to be built in time to go into service six months after the first ferry is completed and operational.
The contract proposal calls for a bid on an optional third vessel, but Greene said it had not been determined how the vessel would be used.
Only two vessels would be needed for the Port Townsend-Keystone route to return the run to the service it had before the aging Steel Electric ferries were pulled in November for safety reasons, and the route was reduced to one boat.
With two ferries, boats would leave every 45 minutes during peak use.
The state ferries system will advertise the contract in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce for bid opening at the state ferries office in Seattle, Greene said
Modifications to the Island Home-model contract to meet the specifications of the Port Townsend-Keystone route also are to be posted today on the state ferries Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
Fill the void
The Island Home ferries would fill the void left when state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond pulled the Steel Electric vehicle ferries from service on Nov. 20. She cited unsafe pitted and corroded hulls.
The state leased the Steilacoom II from Pierce County, a smaller 50-car ferry, which has served the Port Townsend-Keystone route on reservations only throughout the summer.
The Steilacoom II will remain on the route until it can be replaced by its sister vessel, the Christine Anderson, which will be in drydock in the coming month for maintenance, Greene said.
The vessel would have to undergo additional sea trials before it is ready to replace the Steilacoom II.
Greene said state ferries officials expected to take up to 10 days to award the contract, but that the bids would still be good for up to 90 days in the event that more time is needed to evaluate them.
David Moseley, state deputy Transportation secretary for ferries, has said the agency would do its best to make the bidding process competitive.
The state ferries service advertised this year to build a Steilacoom II-model ferry for the route, but the effort stalled when only one builder, Todd Shipyards, vied for the contract, and its bid came in at $26 million, $9 million higher than state engineer estimates.
The bid was called to expedite construction of a replacement ferry for the Port Townsend-Keystone route.
Port Townsend residents have long opposed plans for another 50-car Steilacoom II-type ferry, wanting instead a larger vessel that can handle more cars and passengers.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, after a visit to downtown Port Townsend businesses earlier this year, agreed after she heard business owners' concerns about the size of the Steilacoom II ferry.
Island Home-model design modifications could save the ferry system money. An $85 million budget remains for the two larger ferries.
The modifications would include no bow doors on the ends of the vessel, and no air conditioning system, which suit New England winters and summers only, ferries officials said.
The original Island Home ferry operates in Massachusetts.
The Island Homes would be large enough to handle commercial distribution trucks, including those hauling kraft paper from Port Townsend Paper Corporation's mill to the company's Canadian box-making plants.
The Steilacoom II can handle only vehicles of 80,000 pounds or less.
Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.