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On March 31st, the Grassroot Institute was one of several organizations to offer testimony on SCR 181, which would request the state Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of an interisland ferry. Grassroot has been an advocate of a ferry system–which holds great economic potential for our islands.

And now there’s good news. The Committee not only passed the resolution, but took into account the suggestions made by Grassroot and Michael Hansen of the Hawaii Shippers Council in expanding the scope of the study. Formerly, the resolution only considered the Washington State ferry as a model, but now it has been expanded to other possible jurisdictions as well. Given the promise and the significance of this endeavor, it’s important that this first analysis be a comprehensive one.

The resolution does not, unfortunately, explicitly mention that the Department should also consider the possibility of requesting an exemption to the Jones Act build requirement in the acquisition of the ferry itself. However, that is an issue that should be covered by an inquiry into the costs and parameters of the vessel. As we work together to create a coalition in support of an interisland ferry, Grassroot will continue to advocate for best practices that can put the project on the path to success.

The amended resolution reads:

SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION

REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING AN INTERISLAND FERRY SYSTEM SIMILAR TO THE FERRY SYSTEMS OPERATED BY WASHINGTON STATE AND OTHER JURISDICTIONS.

WHEREAS, unlike other states, Hawaii does not enjoy the benefit of being linked to other states, cities, or towns via the federal interstate highway system or a network of interconnected state and local highways; and

WHEREAS, air transportation is currently the only efficient means of travel between Hawaii’s major islands; and

WHEREAS, an interisland ferry system can serve as an efficient alternative for transporting passengers and cargo; and

WHEREAS, Washington State Ferries, which is part of the Washington State Department of Transportation, operates the largest ferry system in the United States; and

WHEREAS, with twenty-two ferries traversing the Puget Sound and its inland waterways, Washington State Ferries serves as a marine highway for commercial users, tourists, and daily commuters; and

WHEREAS, Washington State Ferries employs approximately eighteen hundred people and is Washington’s most popular tourist attraction; and

WHEREAS, other jurisdictions with successful ferry systems include Alaska, New Zealand, and Australia/Tasmania; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the Senate of the Twenty-eighth Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session of 2015, the House of Representatives concurring, that the Department of Transportation is requested to study the feasibility of establishing an interisland ferry system similar to the ferry systems operated by Washington State and other jurisdictions; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Department of Transportation is requested to emphasize compliance of an interisland ferry system with the State’s environmental protection laws, including chapter 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Department of Transportation is requested to identify appropriate routes and harbors for an interisland ferry system; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Department of Transportation is requested to consider:

(1) Potential costs and revenues of an interisland ferry system;

(2) Financing options for an interisland ferry system, including the establishment of rates or fees to address operating costs; and

(3) Parameters of an interisland ferry system, including vessel design and speed, passenger capacity, cargo capacity, automobile capacity, and compatibility with harbor infrastructure; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Department of Transportation is requested to report its findings and recommendations, including any proposed legislation, to the Legislature no later than twenty days prior to the convening of the Regular Session of 2016; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislative Reference Bureau assist the Department of Transportation in the preparation of its report to the Legislature on findings and recommendations, including any proposed legislation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that certified copies of this Concurrent Resolution be transmitted to the Director of Transportation and Director of the Legislative Reference Bureau.