Future goals, traffic, challenges for ferries discussed at Kingston meeting

Washington State Ferries is looking to spend $14.6 billion on 16 new vessels by 2040

Representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol, Washington State Ferries and other local advisory committees took some time to hear the concerns, questions and comments from members of the public during an April 29 meeting at Kingston’s Village Green Community Center.

Amy Scarton, assistant secretary for the Washington State Ferries noted that recent outcomes during Washington’s Legislative session will see a number of effects that will be felt by the ferries.

“We’ve got 23 auto ferries, although that number will drop back down to 22 in July,” Scarton said at Monday’s meeting. “One of our oldest boats that was set to retire, the mighty Hyak — we had actually asked the Legislature if they would keep funding that boat, because we know we don’t have enough relief boats in our system.”

“We had asked to keep the boat alive and unfortunately in the House and the Senate they couldn’t find the funding, so we’ll go back down to 22 boats.”

Despite the loss of the Hyak, Scarton said she felt the system was still in good shape.

“Generally, I think our system is in a really good state,” Scarton said. “Especially in light of the fact that we keep growing. Nearly 25 million people, that is the highest ridership that we’ve had in 16 years.”

As another result of the Legislature’s inability to allocate the recommended funds to the Ferries, it also seems that fare increases are looming on the horizon as well.

Ray Deardorf, a senior planning manager with the ferries, noted that “Washington State Ferries does not set its own fares, rather an independent board called the [Washington State] Transportation Commission does that.”

Deardorf also explained that while the commission has the ultimate say on fare implementation, the ferries first provide a recommendation following a review of the existing fare structure.

“We also have direction from the Legislature, in particular, how much money we need to raise for operations and now capital.”

Following a period for public input during the fare review process, Deardorf noted that the ferries would be bringing forth a fare proposal to the Washington State Transportation Commission this June. Another public comment period will follow in late July to early August, with a public hearing scheduled for Aug. 6. The fares accepted by the commission, Deardorf said, would take effect on Oct. 1, 2019.

In the past, one of the key concerns voiced by Kingston business owners has been the detriment to local business resulting from backed-up ferry traffic preventing vehicles from entering or exiting Kingston’s businesses. To address this issue, WSDOT has proposed constructing improvements to NE 1st Street which would create a two-way route to the ferry terminal. The section of street to be improved is between Washington Boulevard NE and Illinois Avenue. Another possible plan to address the issue of traffic in Kingston, was the construction of a remote holding area near Lindvog Road NE along State Route 104.

Perhaps the priciest hurdle facing the ferries, is the fact that 13 ferries are estimated to need replacement in the next 20 years. As part of the long-term planning process, Washington State Ferries has stated its intent to invest in 16 new vessels by 2040 which will carry an estimated price tag of about $14.6 billion.

Nick Twietmeyer is the editor of the North Kitsap Herald, Central Kitsap Reporter and Kingston Community News. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com.

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