If all goes as planned, work will begin in September on a fast, low-wake, fuel-efficient prototype ferry. The $3.7 million, 149-passenger, foil-assisted catamaran will be unique, built after more than seven years of wake research to meet the challenges presented by Rich Passage.
At a special meeting on Tuesday, Kitsap Transit board members approved a plan for construction and operation of the craft, using $4.2 million in federal grants and $1.8 million in New Markets Tax Credits in cooperation with the non-profit Marine Transportation Association of Kitsap and Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority.
With the funds, MTAK would get a prototype low-wake ferry built by All American Marine in Bellingham, then lease it to Kitsap Transit. The craft would carry passengers between Bremerton and Seattle during a wake and fare research test period of six months or more, beginning next summer or fall and funded by the start-up funding.
Beyond that initial period, operations are uncertain. Kitsap Transit would seek additional grant or loan money; if none is available, the boat may be used on the Port Orchard-Bremerton foot-ferry run, or it could be leased to King County, which is actively pursuing passenger-only ferry service. As traffic volume, gas prices and environmental pressures increase in our land-based transportation systems, the advantages of water transit systems are becoming more evident in the Puget Sound region.
Go Kitsap! Despite the inevitable skepticism of critics, we believe that low-wake high-speed passenger-only ferries will play a growing role in Puget Sound’s transit mix. There’s an uncongested, free water highway out there we’d be foolish not to utilize more fully with nimble, low-wake passenger-only boats for leisure travelers and commuters alike. The trick will be finding the right public-private funding split; and mustering the political leadership to build support for regional fast foot ferries.
King County’s formation of its own passenger-only ferry district to run several demonstration routes in addition to current Vashon Island-Seattle and West Seattle-Seattle service is a good initial step. Also encouraging is the Port of Kingston’s winning of a $3.5 million federal grant to help launch passenger-only ferry service between Kingston, in northern Kitsap County, and downtown Seattle. Under the grant conditions, the funds will be released after the state legislature enacts its expected tolling plan for the State Route 520 bridge in King County. This must occur before September 30, 2009, and is all but guaranteed, although the exact nature of that plan remains to be determined. The port has applied for another $900,000 from the state to add to its start-up kitty. Port director Mike Bookey, a former high-tech exec from Seattle’s Eastside ‘burbs, has a solid business plan for the operation to become self-sufficient, and profitable after four years.
A consortium in Whatcom County last year got a $1 million state grant for a facility where next-generation passenger-only ferries will be built. There’s a growing world market for these boats. Let’s hope Puget Sound gets a piece of that. At both ends.
The Kitsap effort adds to the slowly gathering momentum here on passenger-only ferries.
We’ll stay tuned, so that you can, too.
“Foot Ferry Of The Future,” KOMO 4 TV, 5/8/08 – coverage of Cascadia’s 5/8/08 passenger-only ferry forum;
“Linking Speedier Ferries With A Healthier Sound,” Kitsap Sun, 5/8/08 – coverage of Cascadia’s 5/8/08 passenger-only ferry forum;
“Imagine A Network Of Foot Ferries: Our Century’s ‘Forward Thrust’ For Puget Sound,” Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Center, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sunday 2/10/08;
TV and radio coverage of 7/2/07 Cascadia passenger-only ferries forum;
Cascadia Prospectus blog posts on marine transportation.