Thanks to $7.6 million more in federal monies for car and passenger ferries that was secured yesterday by U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington, Kitsap Transit will be fully funded for a six month trial run of a high speed, low wake passenger-only ferry to serve the Bremerton-Seattle route. The 118-seat passenger ferry is being manufactured by All American Marine in Bellingham, following authorization in April by the Kitsap Transit board of a $5.3 million construction contract. It’s expected to be built by next March and in operation as soon as next June. Funds to pay for the boat’s manufacture included proceeds from a special bonding arrangement between Kitsap Transit and the county’s housing authority, plus earlier federal grants. Also on the horizon is a passenger-only ferry run between Seattle and Kingston – on the Kitsap Peninsula’s northern tip. The Port of Kingston has $3.5 million in federal money to help launch the service with a new boat but must find funding for a back-up vessel. Here’s a business plan the port presented to the Puget Sound Regional Council (pdf).
This latest federal infusion for ferries in Washington state includes $1.3 million for operations of the new Kitsap Transit foot ferry in the planned six-month trial run, to evaluate how well wake impacts are reduced; and another $1.3 million to prepare the dock to accommodate the vessel, the Kitsap Sun reports today. The $7.6 million also includes $2 million for King County’s passenger ferry district to buy a replacement for the old, slow tour boat used on its popular West Seattle Water Taxi, and $3 million for Washington State Ferries toward upgrading its car ferry terminal in Anacortes, the gateway to the San Juan Islands.
Cascadia Center has consistently championed expanded foot ferries as part of a forward-looking multi-modal transit system for metro Puget Sound. Key touchpoints in this effort include a May, 2008 conference on the Seattle waterfront where another low-wake high-speed foot ferry built by All American Marine was demo’d. Cascadia also organized a July, 2007 foot ferry symposium at Salty’s in West Seattle and in 2003 organized a special trip for policy-makers and opinion leaders to the San Francisco Bay Area to see their extensive foot ferry system in operation.
The completion of funding for the fast foot ferry trial in Bremerton is the latest and most upbeat chapter in a long and drawn-out saga.
A naval base town west across Puget Sound from Seattle, Bremerton is home a huge shipyard facility, and boasts affordable housing, a growing arts scene, and convenient access to the scenic Olympic Peninsula. Led by Mayor Cary Bozeman, the city has gained notice for impressive revitalization of its formerly dilapidated and distressed downtown, adjacent to a car ferry dock operated by Washington State Ferries and a smaller foot ferry dock.
In the late 1990s, a state-operated passenger ferry between Bremerton and Seattle proved popular but the run had to be discontinued due to a lawsuit resulting from wake impacts of the vessel on the shorelines of property owners in narrow Rich Passage, a short distance east of Bremerton. Several votes to raise taxes in Kitsap County to pay for development of new, low-wake passenger ferry service were rejected by voters. Over time, a new funding strategy evolved, which is now coming to fruition in the six-month test.
After that, a steady funding source for operations and maintenance will have to be identified. If ridership is high – as is very likely, if service is speedy and reliable, and wake impacts are acceptable, that challenge will be easier to meet but still no slam dunk.
Here’s a thought. Many vehicles on Washington State car ferries are tourists from within and without the region, on road trips where transit is not an option; so some level of car ferry service must be maintained. The question is, how much? Another set of vehicles on the WSF car ferries are commuters, taking their four-wheelers on and off the boats. True, state car ferries are legally part of our highway system. And so-called “walk-ons,” people who ride the car ferries without cars, are a sizable group, too.
But should the tail wag the dog? As the transportation sector comes under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, do we really want to be hauling hundreds of commuter cars back and forth across the water on each trip’s leg – albeit sometimes with a goodly number of walk-ons aboard – using a state car ferry system that’s in dire financial straits in large part because of the very cost of operating, maintaining and replacing the behemoth boats? WSF faces a $3.3 billion funding gap in its 22-year capital improvement plan; see p. ES-5 of this recent WSF report’s executive summary.
How about if, instead, many more of those commuters could be served by a network of less expensive and more nimble passenger-only ferries like the new one to serve the Bremerton-Seattle route? Rise to the challenge of building in reliable inter-modal transit and para-transit connections between the terminals and major employment and commercial centers.
We outlined how a regional system of foot ferries could be pursued, in this Sunday op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in February of ’08.
UPDATE: Our Bruce Agnew is included in a series of KOMO 1000 AM Newsradio segments on the story filed by reporter Travis Mayfield.