Hawaii senators are asking the state to explore whether it’s time to take another swing at creating a statewide interisland ferry system.

The Senate passed a pair of resolutions Thursday asking the state Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of building a system inspired by Washington state.

“We are an island state surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. It just makes sense,” said Sen. Michelle Kidani, D-Mililani Town, who introduced the pair of resolutions.

Kidani wants to encourage cheaper options for interisland travel, and she said that airlines no longer offer discounted fares to local passengers who buy in bulk. These days, if a local family of six wants to visit a neighbor island, they’re looking at $1,000 to $1,200 in airfare alone, she said.

“I’ve heard people say that they can go to Vegas for cheaper, and a lot of them do,” Kidani said.

Many of her constituents are still asking her why the state discontinued the Superferry six years ago, she said.

The Superferry ran from 2007 to 2009, but it shut down after a judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to have let the ferry run without a full environmental review. The ferry held up to 900 passengers and more than 200 vehicles, and traveled at 40 mph. Environmentalists had protested the potential damage to marine life, at one point stopping the giant ferry from docking on Kauai by lying on surfboards and kayaks across the ferry’s ocean path.

Kidani says she envisions a smaller ferry that would carry passengers, not cars.

The Hawaii Shippers Council argued that instead of modeling the ferry system after Washington State, which operates in the protected Puget Sound, Hawaii should take a look at an Australian system that ferries passengers across open sea between the mainland and Tasmania.

The Department of Transportation said it supports the intent of the proposal, but it cautioned that the greatest challenges would be community support, environmental effects and profitability. An environmental impact study for a large-capacity vessel like the Superferry would cost at least $1 million, and the department doesn’t have the resources in its budget, said Ford Fuchigami, the department’s director, in written testimony. Fuchigami also warned it would be infeasible to finance a state-operated interisland ferry system at this time.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau supported the proposal as a way for farmers, especially on neighbor islands, to bring their goods to market.

The resolutions now move to the House.

Tags: ferries, hawaii
Photo Credit: Interior of the old Hawaii Superferry. Alan L / Flickr