Washington State Ferries today rejected a bid by Todd Pacific Shipyards to build a new 50-car ferry to run between Port Townsend and Keystone.

Washington State Ferries today rejected a bid by Todd Pacific Shipyards to build a new 50-car ferry to run between Port Townsend and Keystone.

“The tab to taxpayers is too high,” said David Moseley, head of ferries. “We will find solutions to bring down the construction costs.”

He said the state will again put out bids for the boat, and hope to award a contract in May.

The decision came as little surprise. On Monday, Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the state likely would reject the bid.

“We think we won’t accept the bid. It’s not a good price. The price isn’t reasonable,” said Hammond.

Todd was the only bidder last week to build what the state is calling a Steilacoom III vessel, a boat modeled after a Pierce County ferry, Steilacoom II, that has been leased to the state for the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

Todd bid nearly $26 million to build the ferry, while Washington State Ferries had estimated the cost at nearly $17 million.

Hammond said she doesn’t understand what went into the state’s estimate, or why the Todd bid came out so high, but Steve Welch, head of the shipyard, said one reason is the requirement that the boat be built in a year or the shipyard could face a $6,000-a-day fine.

Ferry officials said one source of the higher costs were state specifications that have added to the $12 million that Pierce County spent to build the Steilacoom II. The changes to the specifications include improved safety, security and quality, said Washington State Ferries.

The state had wanted the new boat completed by May 2009, and has leased the Pierce County vessel until the new boat is completed. But the state negotiated an extension of the lease until August 2009 and is trying to extend it until October 2009. That might give the state time to slow down the new boat construction timeline, or even push forward with building two Island Home design boats, like those operating in New England.

The state originally planned to build three boats like the Pierce County ferry, but opted instead to build just one of those boats and two of the Island Homes, which are larger and considered more stable.

Now the DOT plans to talk with local shipyards about how the bid can be better defined before advertising it again. Changes could include incentives to shipyards for completing the boat early.

Moseley said he is optimistic a new bid will be lower than the Todd bid.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com