A storm of objections over a Washington State Ferries plan to remove the foot-ferry berth from downtown Seattle's Colman Dock has led to a change in course. The ferry system received 196 statements on its plan over a five-week scoping-comment period for a project that will put a new, seismically enhanced dock in place by 2020.
The possible disappearance of the Seattle landmark's passenger-only ferry berths emerged as the most common subject of comments, appearing in more than three-quarters of submissions when Washington State Ferries (WSF) released a summary of the comments last week. The next greatest concern, traffic impacts, was easily eclipsed. Environmental issues dominated the statements, with bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connections commanding plenty of attention.
The passenger-only controversy erupted in January when, at a roundtable for ferry providers, ferries chief David Moseley presented a schematic for the rebuilt dock with the passenger ferries' berths missing. Three current or prospective passenger-only providers attending the program said they had not seen the plan beforehand.
"We were informed of WSF's decision, but ... were merely informed of their decision and not engaged in any meaningful discussion of solutions, alternatives, mitigation, or collaboration," the Port of Kingston groused in its Feb. 27 scoping comment.
“We are deeply concerned that the proposed project concept eliminates ... a long established component of the transportation system without any consideration for, or mitigation of, the impacts to the multimodal transportation system, the communities impacted, or the environment,” the statement continued.
The letter from the port, whose financially troubled SoundRunner service plies the Kingston-Colman route, set the tone for comments from many others.
In addition to Kingston, other services would also be affected. The King County Ferry District (KCFD) operates the Water Taxi to West Seattle and Vashon. Kitsap Transit hopes to begin using Colman for four months of trials (with paying passengers) for its Bremerton passenger-only service in late June. The Port of Port Townsend is looking to launch a more tourist-oriented service in the summer of 2013. The port might look at other options, but proximity to the city's downtown makes Colman the dock of choice, however.
"Very preliminary research performed since WSF’s recent project notification indicates that there are few, if any, suitable locations along the Seattle waterfront that could accommodate the unique water and land-based needs of the passenger-only ferry function of one or multiple providers," Kingston's letter stated. "This project, as proposed, would deal a severe blow to the fledgling passenger-only ferry operators who are trying hard to provide a waterborne transportation alternative as part of a truly multimodal transportation network ... [and] could represent the demise of passenger-only ferry service on the Seattle waterfront.”
Underscoring similar points, many more organizations weighed in on behalf of continued passenger-only access at Colman: KCFD, Kitsap County commissioners, Kitsap Transit, the Cascadia Center for Regional Development, the Port of Port Townsend, the City of Port Townsend, Jefferson Transit, Seattle city electeds, the MLB Stadium Public Facilities District, People for Puget Sound, the Marine Transportation Association of Kitsap, Transportation Choices Coalition, and the Seattle Mariners.
Not one comment supported abandoning the passenger-only berths.
Moseley's January presentation arguably put WSF on thin legalistic ice. A 2003 state legislative finding declares that "if the state eliminates passenger-only ferry service on one or more routes, it should provide an opportunity for locally sponsored service and the department of transportation should assist in this effort." A 2006 enactment provides that "the Washington state ferry system shall collaborate with new and potential passenger-only ferry service providers ... for terminal operations at its existing terminal facilities."
In this year's session, the Legislature's supplemental transportation budget law joined the statutory chorus, demanding that the Washington State Department of Transportation "ensure that multimodal access, including for passenger-only ferries and transit service providers, is not precluded by any future modifications" at ferry terminals.
Asked in a telephone interview if WSF has now adjusted its plans, Moseley answered affirmatively: "Our job is to be responsive. Our response has been to work more diligently with passenger-only ferry providers ... so that we can get an agreement" on interim and permanent accommodation of foot-ferries.
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