Port Townsend ferry construction top priority of new state ferries chief

SEATTLE — Getting three new Port Townsend-Keystone ferries constructed and boosting ferry service between Edmonds and Kingston this summer are at the top of the list for the new chief of Washington State Ferries.

“It’s very, very critical that we’re beginning the process this month with a bid opening,” said David Moseley, state Department of Transportation assistant secretary for the Ferries Division, on Wednesday.

“Really the top priority for me in moving forward now is this new vessel construction program.”

Moseley, 60, who started his new job Monday, said those bids will be opened at the state ferries system’s Seattle office on March 20.

They will lead to construction of the first of three ferries for the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

In February, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a $100 million budget bill that she had proposed to build three new ferries forthe Port Townsend-Keystone route on a fast-track schedule.

The ferry run across Admiralty Inlet, which links state Highway 20 traffic from the North Olympic Peninsula to Whidbey Island, lost Steel Electric car ferry service on Nov. 20.

Moseley’s boss, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, pulled the 80-year-old vessels from service, citing safety concerns.

Designed by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders Freeland, the first 50-car boat will be modeled after Pierce County’s Steilacoom II, which the state leased through April 2009 to serve the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

The vessel is built for normally calm waters, and ferries officials have said it will be operated at the captain’s discretion, which already has meant some trip cancellations.

The first new vessel is on a 14-month construction cycle, which would launch it in May 2009.

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