DOT backs ferry feasibility study

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In hopes of keeping the ferry issue afloat, the state Senate passed a resolution last year asking transportation officials to study whether Washington state’s ferry system could be used as a model for Hawaii.

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In hopes of keeping the ferry issue afloat, the state Senate passed a resolution last year asking transportation officials to study whether Washington state’s ferry system could be used as a model for Hawaii.

After seeing no action, the Legislature appears to be ready to do the same again, though this time with a mandate and funding to go with it.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, one of the co-sponsors, said the House will today take its final vote on Senate Bill 2618 before sending it to conference. The Senate already approved a version of the bill.

Unlike the resolution, the bill would require the state Department of Transportation to conduct the study. While funding would be provided, the amount to be allocated remains blank in the bill.

In its written testimony, the department says it strongly supports the measure.

Inouye, D-North Hawaii, said officials would be required to have a report ready for the 2017 legislative session.

She said the study would consider whether a state-operated ferry service, if approved, should be passenger-only or also serve vehicles and cargo.

“We certainly need another mode of transportation other than air,” Inouye said.

According to the bill, the study would take a close look at state-owned systems in Washington and Alaska.

Those systems differ from the Superferry, which was a private venture.

The Superferry operated from 2007-09 and shut down after a judge ruled it was unconstitutional to allow it to operate without a full environmental review.

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Additionally, the bill says the study would address appropriate routes and harbors, costs, rates and fees, vessel design, impacts on traffic congestion and the spread of invasive species.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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