Old Boats

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It was only a matter of time-- and bad timing at that. Washington State Ferries pulled the remaining two of its four 80-year-old boats out of service just in time for the holiday weekend rush. The Klickitat was taken off the Port Townsend-Keystone route and the Illahee off the San Juan Islands circuit. The state found a replacement for the Illahee, but the ferry system has no other boat that can navigate Keystone's shallow harbor, so the car-ferry route will be closed indefinitely. A passenger-only ferry was supposed to be up and running today, but WSDOT couldn't find a place to moor it. So it will be Monday or later before you (car or no car) can skip between the Peninsula and Whidbey again.

The ferries have holes in their hulls, caused by corrosion. The state's 1920s-era boats have been on a rotation of repair all year. The Quinault, taken off the Port Townsend - Keystone run in July, is still drydocked at Todd Shipyards in Seattle.

I commuted by ferry this morning, saw the small 21-car boat listing heavily to the port side as it docked on tiny Guemes Island. Wondered about the shape of its hull for a moment, before the pink predawn sky reflecting on the pale blue sound served as an easy distraction for the short ride.

The ferries are only one piece of our regional transportation infrastructure, but a very visible reminder that everything is aging. And there are no good solutions in sight. King County may have recently voted to tax residents to fund new passenger-ferry routes, but state lawmakers may find themselves in the unfortunate position come January of choosing between two expensive, and slow, solutions: fix the ancient ferries, or fast-track construction on four new ones. Either way, we're likely in for more closures and delays.

 
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