Gov. Chris Gregoire today proposed investing $100 million in the Washington state ferry system to improve safety and increase capacity.

"We must act now to replace older ferries with newer, safer and more efficient vessels," said Gov. Gregoire. "The Washington state ferry system is an integral part of the Puget Sound's transportation infrastructure and a growing number of Washingtonians are coming to rely on them daily. I intend to maintain our current routes without sacrificing the safety of our citizens."

The governor's 2008 supplemental budget proposal of $100 million for the construction of three new ferries will allow the state to retire the 80-year old steel electric ferries, the oldest vessels in the fleet.

The governor announced that the state will rent a ferry from Pierce County in order to resume auto-service on the Port Townsend-Keystone route by mid-to late-January and that passenger only ferry service will be provided between Seattle's Colman Dock and Port Townsend during the holiday season.

In addition, the state signed a contract with Todd Pacific Shipyards to move forward with a procurement process that has been marked by challenges since being authorized by the Legislature in 2001. After the funding for the new ferries was lost due to the failure in 2002 of Referendum 51, proceeds from the 2003 gas tax were directed toward the purchase. A legal challenge in 2005 again slowed progress.

Gov. Gregoire worked with the chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees during the 2007 legislative session on a bill that allowed the three prequalified shipyards - Todd Pacific Shipyards, J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corporation and Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Inc. - to present a joint proposal. The shipyards agreed that Todd Pacific would act as the prime contractor and J.M. Martinac and Nichols Brothers would participate as subcontractors.

Gov. Gregoire will release her full supplemental budget proposal Dec. 18.