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Emission free ferries by 2040: Buttigieg in Washington

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Photo by Nate Gowdy
Photo by Nate Gowdy

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the Mukilteo ferry terminal and Port Orchard's Waterfront Park as part of his nationwide "Investing in America" tour, discussing advancements in the state's ferry system and infrastructure fueled by federal funding.

Joined by state and congressional leaders, including Gov. Jay Inslee, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and US Reps. Rick Larsen and Derek Kilmer, Buttigieg stressed the importance of investing in transformative projects nationwide, aligning with President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan.

During his second visit to Washington state since October 2022, Buttigieg highlighted its commitment to achieving an emission-free fleet by 2040, with a particular focus on electrifying its renowned ferry system. Last year, the system received a significant boost from a $38 million federal grant for boat maintenance and renovations, doubling the federal support for Washington State Ferries, the country's largest and the world's second-largest ferry system.

A key aspect of this effort involves replacing diesel engines with batteries, reducing the ferry system's reliance on 19 million gallons of diesel fuel consumed annually. This transition aligns with Washington's sustainability goals and carbon footprint reduction.

The Mukilteo ferry terminal, the state's newest and environmentally conscious facility, features innovative elements, such as a rainwater-capturing roof, operable windows that eliminate the need for air conditioning, and cement barriers that protect against rising seawaters. Its design pays tribute to the tribes who historically inhabited the land and signed the Point Elliott Treaty nearly 170 years ago.

Photo by Nate Gowdy  

During the visit, Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors Chair Teri Gobin emphasized the tribes' shift from traditional salmon fishing to supplemental activities like crabbing. Electrifying the ferry system represents a crucial step in combating climate change, offering hope for the restoration of vital fishing runs and the preservation of cultural heritage.

The discussion also covered other federally funded projects in Washington state. Approximately $130 million is being allocated to support initiatives such as the replacement of a storm-damaged breakwater in Port Orchard and the relocation of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe to higher ground to mitigate climate change impacts on them. Funds are also dedicated to constructing recreational trails and addressing critical coastal infrastructure needs.

Photo by Nate Gowdy  

Buttigieg, the first openly Gay person in his role, emphasized the significance of workforce training and development in the transportation sector, including programs supported by the Low or No Emission Vehicle Program. The federal funding aims to bolster coastal resilience, stimulate economic development, and enhance transportation infrastructure across Washington state.