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Last fall, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill includes more than 1 billion dollars for ferries. For Maine, with 15 year-round, unbridged island communities, six of whom are served by the state ferry service, this program should make us pay attention. Access to these funds would help ensure the affordability and sustainability of these vital vessels.

The ferry service provides more than just transportation to and from island communities; islanders rely on ferries for necessary supplies and services. Ferries act like a water ambulance when an emergency strikes; they provide access to groceries and prescription medicines; and make deliveries to and from businesses. The ferry is the “bus” for Swan’s Island students who attend high school on the mainland, for students who live on Vinalhaven and go to the Midcoast School of Technology, and for students who live on the mainland and travel to Islesboro’s magnet school. All students, teachers, and coaches ride the ferries when traveling for extra-curricular activities.

The infrastructure bill will provide $250 million in grants for electric or low-emitting ferry pilot programs and $1 billion as operating subsidies to states for eligible essential ferry service in rural communities. The Maine State Ferry Service (MSFS) has a yearly operating budget of around $12.5 million and a plan to replace at least two new vessels in the next five years, which will cost $10-12 million each. Both the low-emission ferry program and rural operating subsidies have exciting potential to go a long way for our state.

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