Kitsap Transit is doing its part to stimulate the economy.
Despite service cuts that were implemented earlier this year, Kitsap Transit's commissioners on Tuesday approved spending $9.5 million for vans, passenger ferries and a park-and-ride lot expansion.
Not all of the money is from President Obama's stimulus package, but it's all from federal and state sources. None can be diverted to restore local service, executive director Dick Hayes said. Citing budget shortfalls, Kitsap Transit earlier this year eliminated bus and foot ferry service on Sundays, along with other service cuts. The agency also increased fares on April 1.
Kitsap Transit expects to spend about $1.8 million in stimulus funds to buy 73 vans for its Rideshare program. Some will be purchased from a state buying pool, while others will be put out to bid to give local dealerships a chance to compete.
The new vans will replace older ones and expand the Rideshare program.
"That van fleet was ready to collectively die," Hayes said. "It was really scary."
Another $2.4 million in stimulus dollars will allow Kitsap Transit to complete its years-long ferry wake research. That money, combined with $3.1 million in federal ferry boat discretionary funds and a $1.1 million transfer from a park-and-ride project, will allow it to build a high-speed, low-wake passenger ferry and test it in Rich Passage.
The board gave the go-ahead to contract with All American Marine of Bellingham to build the $5.3 million boat. Work would begin in May or June and be completed in about a year.
While conducting the wake tests, the ferry will also carry passengers. That will allow Kitsap Transit to test a business model, but it will also cost $1.4 million to operate and require $800,000 in dock work is needed. Grant money is available for that, but there is no money to operate the ferry beyond the initial 6- to 9-month research period.
The boat could be used on Kitsap Transit's Bremerton-Port Orchard route if the cross-Sound route can't be made to work.
Some transit board members worried what will happen if the foil-assisted catamaran doesn't turn out to be the right boat for narrow Rich Passage. Hayes said the new boat is expected to create 10 to 20 percent less wake than another boat tested in Rich Passage in 2005.
Eventually, one has to trust the experts, Hayes said.
"All over the world, wake experts know we're doing the best wake research in the world," Hayes said, "but nobody here knows that."
Washington State Ferries discontinued a fast ferry route between Bremerton and Seattle because its boats were damaging Rich Passage beaches, and because they cost too much to operate. No matter how good the new ferry might be, there will still be opposition, said Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kardonowy, the transit board chairwoman.
"There are going to be people complaining no matter what, so I'd like to have something to point to on how thorough the process was," she said.
The board unanimously voted to approve the contract with All American Marine.
"We finally made it, and we're making it on a scientific basis," Hayes said. "I'm real happy we've reached this point with a boat I think will work."
The 118-passenger boat will cruise through Rich Passage at 37 knots because it creates less wake at higher speeds. It'll slow to 29 knots the rest of the way, Hayes said.
The board also gave the agency permission to buy a used backup ferry for the Bremerton-Port Orchard route for no more than $350,000 with federal funds.
It also awarded a $2 million contract to Stan Palmer Construction of Port Orchard to expand the Harper church park-and-ride lot from 170 spaces to 540. The lot will close on May 1 for about six months. Kitsap Transit received a $2.4 million state grant for the project and got $500,000 from the feds to match the state funds.
The board voted not to rescind a 50-cent fuel surcharge on bus tickets that went into effect in August. Fuel prices dropped below $2.50 per gallon for six continuous months, meeting the criteria for removing the surcharge, but to rescind it would probably lead to further service cuts, the agency says.