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Washington can now look to out-of-state shipbuilders for its next ferries

caption: A ferry crossing Puget Sound, seen from West Seattle.
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A ferry crossing Puget Sound, seen from West Seattle.

Washington state has charted a bipartisan course to overhaul its ferry procurement plans. Officials will now broaden their scope when seeking builders for the state's new ships.

When the jumbo ferry M/V Walla Walla lost power and went aground at south Bainbridge Island over the weekend, it once again highlighted the need to upgrade Washington's aging ferry fleet.

On Tuesday, the Washington Legislature gave final approval to HB 1846. It passed 94-3 and is now headed to the governor's desk for a signature.

RELATED: Could an aging WA fleet lead to more ferry mishaps?

The measure aims to get new ferries, faster and cheaper. All of the House lawmakers who spoke in favor of the bill referenced the recent incident with the M/V Walla Walla as a reason for speeding up procurement of new ferries.

"This bill reflects a desire to build in Washington, but also opens the possibility to other bids to ensure we get our boats constructed on time," state Sen. Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) said Friday, before the recent incident with the M/V Walla Walla and Tuesday's vote.

As Northwest News Network reported in March, every new ferry added to Washington's fleet over the past 50 years has been built locally, in the Puget Sound region. This is because the state previously required all new ferries to be constructed within the state. This was a way to support the local shipbuilding industry. But limited competition has resulted in delays and high costs. The approved measure allows the state to look nationally. Now, out-of-state shipbuilders can bid on contracts for the state's next new boats — five plug-in hybrid electric ferries.

The revised procurement rules give a modest bid credit to shipbuilders who'll assemble the vessels in Washington, while also inviting national competition from the get-go.

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