On December 21, 1965, Washington State Highway Commissioners empower Highway Director Charles Prahl to award a $22.3 million contract to National Steel and Shipbuilding Company of San Diego, the low bidder for the construction of four new vessels for the state's ferry system. Although hopes were high that the money would be spent in Washington, the state is left with no choice.
Original bids were for two ferries, and then upped to four ferries. Lockheed Shipbuilding of Seattle came in the lowest for the two-vessel bid, but the San Diego firm came in lowest for four vessels.
The highway commissioners looked into the legality of awarding the contract to Lockheed, but determined that even if they could award it to the Seattle firm, the state would incur close to a million dollars in additional costs.
The state was already short $1.5 million for the four-vessel bid, and U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson had convinced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to allocate that amount for the construction of the vessels. Not wanting any further delays, the state awarded the bid to the San Diego firm.
The four ferries, named Hyak, Kaleetan, Yakima, and Elwha, and together known as the Hyak class, were put into service in 1967 and 1968. They were enlarged versions of the Evergreen State class built by Puget Sound Bridge and Drydock Company in the mid-1950s. The new ferries were 382 feet long, carried 2,067 passengers and 160 automobiles, and had more than three times the horsepower of the Evergreen State ferries. At a service speed of 20 knots, the new ferries were 43 percent faster.