On April 29, 2009, members of Congress introduced the United States Ferry Systems Investment Act of 2009, proposing a significant expansion of federal attention to ferry transportation. S. 930 is sponsored by Senator Patti Murray of Washington and cosponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In the House of Representatives, H.R. 2172 is sponsored by Representative Rick Larsen of Washington.
The legislation features a big increase in funding for the existing Federal Ferry Boat Discretionary Grant Program. This program provides competitive federal grants for up to 80 percent of the capital expenditures for ferry vessels, terminals and other shoreside infrastructure, and maintenance facilities. To be eligible, a ferry must be publicly owned or operated. Eligibility also exists if the ferry is majority publicly owned and is determined to provide substantial public benefits. For fiscal 2009, the grant program was authorized at $67m per year, with $20m of that sum reserved for systems in the states of Washington, Alaska, and New Jersey.
Under the proposed legislation, annual funding for the ferry grants program would be set at $200m annually. In addition, the bill would change how the funds are to be distributed. The money would be divided into two pots of $100m each. The first pot would be distributed according to a weighted formula. The formula factors would be: 50 percent based on total annual number of passengers carried by a ferry system; 25 percent based on total number of vehicles carried by a ferry system; and 25 percent based on total route miles serviced by a ferry system.
The second pot of $100m will be distributed competitively by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The bill mandates the establishment of a Ferry Joint Program Office within the U.S. Department of Transportation. Its purposes would be to promote ferry transportation within the U.S. and to coordinate federal ferry programs. Also, Clean Fuels Grants could be used for ferries. A National Ferry Institute will be created at a U.S. college. The existing National Ferry Database will be maintained.