- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington state officials on Wednesday named a new head of the state ferry system, which is emerging from a tough summer.

Lynne Griffith, currently the chief executive officer of Pierce Transit, will be the first woman to head the ferry division of the state Department of Transportation. Agency Secretary Lynn Peterson announced her appointment.

“Our ferry system is an iconic symbol of the state of Washington and a vital link in our statewide transportation system,” Peterson said in a written statement. “It will be in good hands with Assistant Secretary Griffith.”

Griffith has more than 35 years of experience in the transportation industry, including at C-TRAN in Clark County, and managing bus and specialized transportation for people with disabilities in Atlanta.

Washington State Ferries has 163,000 scheduled sailings each year.

The state had been searching for a new director since David Moseley resigned earlier this year. Captain George Capacci has served as interim director.

The July 29 breakdown of a ferry with more than 400 people onboard marked the start of a difficult summer for the nation’s largest ferry system. Preliminary findings show the ferry Tacoma will be out of service until at least December, the ferry system has said.

Last month, a ferry had to return to the dock at Bremerton after the captain realized crews had allowed onboard an extra 484 people, many of them Seattle Seahawks football fans on their way to an exhibition game.

Washington State Ferries operates 10 routes, including to British Columbia, with 22 vessels, some of which date back to the 1950s. It has an operating budget of $242 million, with fares covering 70 percent.

It’s been without a sustainable money source since voters cut the state’s motor-vehicle excise tax to $30 in 1999. That forced the ferries system to raise fares, cut service and reduce costs by more than $40 million per year.

One new 144-car vessel has been delivered this year, with two more on order.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has directed the Transportation Department to come up with a plan for improving reliability, is from Bainbridge Island, which has a major route from the island to the Seattle area.

“Coming from an island community that relies heavily on WSF services, I personally understand and appreciate how this leadership role is important to keeping the economic engine of Washington running,” he said in a prepared statement.

Griffith starts next month.

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