Marine Link

A new bill recently introduced by Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) aims to increase federal funding for public ferry services in the United States.

The “Ferry Service Expansion Act” would boost funding for both the Federal Highway Administration’s formula and the Federal Transit Administration’s competitive grant programs to the levels requested by the Public Ferry Coalition, building upon New Federal Investment in Ferry Service under Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Specifically, it would provide $640 million total from fiscal years 2023 to 2026 in formula grants from the Federal Highway Administration’s Ferry Boats and Ferry Terminal Facilities Formula Program, a $180 million increase over current law, and provide $450 million total from fiscal years 2023 to 2026 in competitive grant programs from the Federal Transit Administration’s Passenger Ferry Grant Program, a $300 million increase over current law. In addition, a one-time $1.25 billion investment in federal transit funding would be provided for passenger ferries serving urbanized areas like San Francisco-Oakland and Seattle.

The bill would also allow States to use their federal Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) for hovercraft ferry projects. Under current law, only “watercraft” ferry projects are available, not hovercrafts performing the exact same overwater transit service. In December 2020, the Bay Area Council released a feasibility study for employing hovercraft to provide ferry service in the South Bay.

The bill would make all Census Bureau-designated rural areas nationwide eligible for Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program established under 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Public Law 117–58).

Notably, the bill would make the 85% federal cost share permanent for the replacement or retrofit of diesel-powered ferries that substantially reduce emissions. Under current law, this more generous federal cost share will end after fiscal year 2025. Normal cost share if 80% for toll roads, bridge, tunnels, and ferry projects.

It would also apply “Buy American” and Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements to the two newly authorized ferry grant programs established under the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In addition, the bill would make privately operated passenger ferries eligible to register Capital Construction Funds with the Maritime Administration (MARAD), which allow vessel operators to forgo paying federal business taxes on such vessels provided all that forgone tax payment is reinvested in constructing new US-flagged vessels in American shipyards. Under current law, only cargo vessels and commercial fishing boats are eligible for this special tax exemption.

“With rising sea levels due to man-made climate change and increasing congestion on our bridges, I strongly support expanding ferry service across the Bay Area. I am thrilled to partner with Senator Murray from Washington State on this much-needed legislation to improve ferry service for commuters and visitors alike. Our ‘Ferry Service Expansion Act’ would provide more federal funding to help retrofit diesel WETA ferries to reduce emissions and eventually replace the entire Bay Area fleet with zero-emission ferries built by skilled American workers,” said Congressman Garamendi.

Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA02), Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Albio Sires (D-NJ08), Alan S. Lowenthal (D-CA42), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP), Barbara Lee (D-CA13), Jared Huffman (D-CA02), James R. Langevin (D-RI02), Eric Swalwell (D-CA15), Derek Kilmer (D-WA06), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA01), and Julia Brownley (CA-26) are original cosponsors on the bill.

National endorsements include the Public Ferry Coalition; Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association; International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots; Maritime Institute for Research and Industrial Development (MIRAID); and Passenger Vessel Association (PVA). And regional endorsements include San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority; Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific; Red and White Fleet – San Francisco Cruises; Delaware River & Bay Authority; Washington State Ferries; (San Francisco) Bay Area Council.

This story was published by Marine Link on September 27, 2022.

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