Legislators weld a bright future for Washington ferries

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen & Rep. Judy Clibborn wield torches to celebrate keel-laying for the state’s newest ferry.

Seattle, Wash. March 29, 2012

Holding welding torches and wearing safety helmets, the chairs of the Washington State Senate and House transportation committees struck the first ceremonial welds today as the keel of Washington’s new 144-car ferry was laid in place at Vigor Industrial’s Harbor Island shipyard.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island and Rep. Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island welded plates into position on the keel, while workers from Vigor, its USFab new-build subsidiary and other regional subcontractors took a break from their usual construction roles to observe.

State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond and Washington State Ferries director David Moseley also addressed the crowd, thanking the workers and the legislators for moving the WSF build program ahead.

Keel laying, the maritime equivalent of placing a cornerstone, is a traditional milestone in ship building. Sen. Haugen and Rep. Clibborn marked the formal start of construction of a new class of ferries designed to carry up to 144 cars and 1,500 passengers across the waters of Puget Sound.

“This construction is critical to replacing our aging fleet. The new ferry will allow us to retire one of the 1950s-era Evergreen State Class vessels,” said Moseley in remarks prepared for the event. “We have a solid partnership with Vigor after successful completion of the Kwa-di Tabil Class ferries, and I look forward to the first 144-car ferry joining the state’s fleet and serving our customers.”

Work on this first vessel will produce an estimated 200 family-wage jobs at US Fab, plus 350 additional jobs at subcontractors and other shipyards in the region. The work will support more than a thousand additional indirect jobs.

WSF estimates the new 144-car ferry will start service in early 2014. The design is based on the 130-car Issaquah class, which WSF says is proven to be the most versatile vessel in the state fleet. The new 144-car ferry will be more comfortable for passengers with added capacity, improved safety systems and better access for customers with disabilities.

“Our workers and hundreds of others around the state are proud to be building this vessel for the people of Washington who ride and rely on ferries,” said Chris Morgan, vice president of US Fab.

WSF has a contract with US Fab for design and construction of up to four 144-car ferries contingent on available funding. Gov. Chris Gregoire recently signed a new transportation bill funding a second 144-car ferry; construction on that vessel is expected to begin at Vigor in December.

Washington State Ferries operates the largest ferry fleet in the United States. Twenty-three ferries carry more than 22 million passengers across Puget Sound and its inland waterways each year.

ABOUT US Fab and VIGOR Industrial:

US Fab is the Pacific Northwest new-build subsidiary of VIGOR Industrial, a privately owned group of companies providing metal fabrication and maritime construction, repair and modernization services in seven facilities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. VIGOR companies are investing to build strong jobs and strong communities through smart management, innovative labor agreements and leading-edge manufacturing facilities and systems. VIGOR people keep front-of-mind the knowledge that industrial jobs matter, not just for employees but also for our cities and towns, our region and for America’s national economy and security.