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Originally published July 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 15, 2009 at 11:12 AM

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Feds snub state's ferry fleet

When it comes to federal stimulus money for ferries, Washington state appears to have missed the boat. Angry and confused state and congressional leaders say they're puzzled why Washington, operator of the nation's largest ferry system, was virtually shut out of $60 million in federal allocations announced Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Ferry projects

Washington state ranks 18th out of 19 states and one U.S. territory that will get federal stimulus money for ferry projects. Here are the top five states, along with Washington's allocation.

1. Michigan: $8.3 million for work at the Detroit City Dock and St. Mary's River Ferry Dock.

2. Texas: $7.2 million for new boat to Port Aransas.

3. Maine: $6.8 million for a new boat for Casco Bay Island and dock work at Lincolnville.

4. New York: $6.5 million for work on the Lake Champlain ferry and Staten Island Ferry.

5. Oregon: $3.2 million for a new boat and other work on the Buena Vista Ferry across the Willamette River near Albany.

18. Washington: $750,000 for a new ferry terminal for the Guemes Island ferry in Skagit County.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

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When it comes to landing federal stimulus money for ferries, Washington state appears to have missed the boat.

Angry and confused state and congressional leaders say they're puzzled why Washington, operator of the nation's largest ferry system, was virtually shut out of $60 million in federal allocations announced Tuesday.

"I am extremely disappointed, and I am asking questions," said a visibly upset Gov. Chris Gregoire. "We have the largest ferry fleet in America, and we didn't get anything. I don't get it."

The sole project in Washington state approved by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is the $750,000 construction of a terminal for the Guemes Island ferry, operated by Skagit County. The amount represents barely more than 1 percent of the federal money allocated.

Washington's request for $26 million to replace the Anacortes ferry terminal was snubbed, as was a request for $9 million to refurbish the ferry Hyak, now serving the Seattle-Bremerton route.

Meanwhile, a small river ferry in Oregon that now operates only half the year landed $3.2 million. The money will pay for a new boat and other improvements to the Buena Vista ferry across the Willamette River near Albany.

Tuesday's announcement was a jolt to Sen. Patty Murray, who had played a key role in getting money for ferry projects included in the nearly $800 billion federal stimulus package that Congress passed earlier this year.

Murray immediately phoned LaHood, asking him to re-examine the process through which the allocations were made.

"She expressed her concern and her disappointment," said Murray spokeswoman Alex Glass. "He immediately agreed to go back and look at the process, and the senator is going to hold his feet to the fire on it."

LaHood was in Washington state last week, and rode a ferry from Seattle to Bremerton with Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, and Gregoire, a fellow Democrat.

Glass said Murray, chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee on Appropriations, believed LaHood understood the needs of the ferry system here.

Projects in 19 states and the Virgin Islands were approved for funding under the Recovery Act.

The big winners were Michigan and Texas, each of which will get more than $7 million.

In Texas, $7.2 million will pay for a new boat to expand service to Port Aransas, located on an island off Corpus Christi Bay.

In Michigan, $7.1 million will build an offshore wharf and space for a passenger terminal serving Detroit suburbs. In another Michigan project, $1.1 million will upgrade docks at the St. Mary's River Ferry on the state's upper peninsula.

LaHood, in a news release accompanying the list of allocations, said most of the projects are located in economically distressed areas and will address critical transportation needs.

"The projects we selected will help put people back to work and at the same time offer more access to areas that lack transportation options," LaHood said. "It is about providing more travel choices to people from communities that need it the most."

Priority was given to projects that can be completed in two years or less.

A spokesman for LaHood Tuesday would not elaborate on the decision-making process or comment on the dissatisfaction of Washington state officials.

Tuesday's disappointment was a sharp contrast to the optimism state leaders expressed in February, after the $60 million for ferry-related projects was written into the federal stimulus bill.

"I think we could get between a third and a half of it," David Moseley, the state's ferry-system director, said at the time, noting the scale of ferry operations in this state.

State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the state and county ferry systems applied for 11 grants for various projects that totaled about $56 million.

"We didn't expect to get all the money we asked for, but we certainly expected to get more than we did," she said.

On Tuesday, Al McCoy, a senior budget manager for Washington ferries, said some state money is available for the needed work on the Hyak, but the Legislature's approval of the terminal project in Anacortes is contingent on getting federal money to finance it.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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