Washington state gets only 1% of federal stimulus ferry funds

WASHINGTON — Washington state may have the largest ferry system in the nation, but it will receive roughly 1 percent of the $60 million in federal stimulus funding to improve ferry service announced Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The announcement came little more than a week after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rode the ferry to Bremerton with Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and Gov. Chris Gregoire. LaHood even mentioned the ferry boat ride in a meeting with reporters earlier this week when he was promoting the administration's stimulus program.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who inserted the $60 million for ferries into the stimulus bill, was surprised and angry when she learned of the ferry grant announcement from the federal Department of Transportation, aides said.

"She's not happy and has put in a phone call to Secretary LaHood," said Alex Glass, a Murray spokeswoman. "This was a top priority."

Gregoire was also upset that the state's ferry system wasn't receiving more stimulus funding.

"We are extremely disappointed by the news and we are looking for answers as to why the state with the nation's largest ferry system received such little ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funding," said Pearse Edwards, a spokesman for the governor.

The money was awarded to 19 states and the Virgin Islands to repair or build new ferry docks, replace aging ferries, upgrade terminals and make other repairs and improvements.

Among the states receiving more money than Washington were Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Washington state will receive a grant of $750,000 for construction of a new terminal and expanded service on the Guemes Island Ferry.

The Transportation Department, in a press release, said the projects selected were in "economically distressed areas and will address critical transportations needs." But they included $3.2 million to improve the San Francisco-Sausalito ferry service. Sausalito is located in upscale Marin County in California.

The largest projects were $7.2 million to build a new ferry and to expand service in Nueces, Texas, and $7.1 million to provide ferry service from Detroit to its suburbs.

The department also put an emphasis on shovel-ready projects that could be completed in two years or less.

"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 in the press release announcing the ferry grants.

A spokeswoman for the department, Nancy Singer, said she had nothing to add and didn't have "any information" on why Washington state received so little.

But Washington state officials said they had projects ready to go.

"All of our projects met that criteria," said Paula Hammond, secretary of the Washington state Department of Transportation. "We had screened them carefully."

Hammond said the state, along with some of the state's local ferry districts, had applied for $56 million in grants.

"We thought we would be competitive," she said. "We are disappointed."

Hammond said the state typically is very aggressive in pursuing transportation grants and was counting on some of the ferry grant money.

"It's a competition," she said. "It would be helpful to learn why we weren't competitive."

(Barbara Barrett of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.)

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