Ferry system funds depend on I-912 defeat

Wednesday in this space, we registered our strong

opposition to Initiative 912, which would eliminate the recently passed 9.5 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax.

And before we could say “penny wise, pound foolish,” the executive council of the state’s Ferry Advisory Committees issued its own statement, reminding voters that ferry-dependent communities like our own will be among those hardest hit should the initiative pass.

Lost would be $81 million in funding earmarked for renovation of the Winslow ferry terminal, including a new transit deck, overhead passenger loading span, and increased bicycle storage. Plans to replace the 55-year-old terminal building would be for naught.

Port Townsend would lose $13.5 million for additional holding lanes, contributing to the chronic congestion around that terminal with which visitors to that community are no doubt familiar. Over Fauntleroy way, $24 million for dock repairs would be slashed, likely resulting in higher costs for future work. Also, a new $66.4 million ferry, slated to replace an older and less fuel-efficient vessel, would be sacrificed.

Why? The ferry system, as readers know, is part of the state highway system; capital funding has been in short supply since voters cut the state motor-vehicle excise tax by initiative six years ago. The new gas tax is not just about shoring up roads and bridges – it’s about ferries too.

Despite the whining in Eastern Washington that the gas tax is “all for Seattle,” tax money really flows west to east across the Cascades, or more precisely, from the state’s urban centers into rural areas. The Puget Sound region largely subsidizes highways around the rest of the state.

But Kitsap County also comes out a big winner. Islander David Groves, who serves on the Ferry Advisory Committee (www.bainbridgeferry.org), notes that tens of millions of dollars in state funds are dedicated to Hood Canal Bridge repairs, for example. There’s no way Kitsap and Jefferson counties could find local funding to pay for that sort of project, a vital connection for trade with the Olympic Peninsula.

Groves predicts continued upward pressure on ferry fares should I-912 pass, continuing the steep increases seen since I-695 first devastated ferry funding six years ago. “The bottom line that we saw with I-695 was, people saved a little money on their car tabs, but fares for communities like Bainbridge went up more than 50 percent,” he notes. “There wasn’t any real savings, certainly not for commuters.”

What did you pay at the pump this week? About $2.75 a gallon? Maybe $2.80? Because the higher gasoline tax is being phased in over a period of years, only 3 cents per gallon went to state ferries and highways.

Eliminate that tax and you’ll still be gouged at the pump. You’ll just be getting less in return.

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