With Prop. 1 passage, Kitsap Transit mobilizes

BREMERTON — The fast ferries are off to a quick start.

Kitsap Transit’s Board of Commissioners has met for the first time since the narrow passage by voters of the local funding option that provides the means for the transit system’s proposed passenger ferry system.

On Nov. 15, the board met to begin the heavy-lifting of getting such a massive undertaking started, with little time to waste.

Some of those seemingly mundane tasks include staffing a marine division; creating an organizational chart, installing a monitoring system to track any erosion through Rich Passage; obtaining partnership agreements with agencies such as the King County Marine Division and Washington State Ferries; signing contracts with shipbuilders who can build the fleet of passenger ferries in the required time frame; and establishing a system of financial accounting to make the entire project “as transparent as we can make it,” Executive Director John Clauson told the board.

As the Kitsap Transit board met one week after the general election, Proposition 1 was still receiving majority support from county voters, according to unofficial results posted Nov. 10 by the Kitsap County Auditor.

Of 103,939 ballots counted to that point, 51.3 percent supported Proposition 1 and 48.7 percent opposed it. A simple majority is required for the measure to be approved.

Write-in ballots have yet to be counted, which could affect election results. Still, the commissioners and staff of Kitsap Transit recognize that the only chance to get the system up and running by July 2017 is to move forward and hope the balloting process continues to follow its current trend.

Dolores Gilmore, the Kitsap County auditor, has said she will certify election results on Nov. 29.

“We’re extremely grateful to Kitsap County voters for their support of Kitsap Transit,” Clauson said. “Cross-sound foot ferries have played an essential role in our region’s history. With this vote, we start a new chapter in cross-sound travel.”

Prop. 1 authorizes Kitsap Transit to levy an added 3/10 of 1 percent (0.3 percent) sales tax that is designated for passenger-only ferry service. The system would launch service from Bremerton to downtown Seattle by July 2017, followed by service from Kingston in 2018 and Southworth in 2020.

Kitsap Transit, which currently has one fast ferry (Rich Passage 1), will resume conversations with the Federal Transit Administration on grants for the fleet.

Kitsap Transit staff members were clearly prepared for the task ahead, but also mindful of what it had taken to get here.

“We’re excited to work with King County Marine Division, which runs a thriving water-taxi service with a proven track record of performance,” Clauson said.

Because Kitsap Transit’s approved 2017 budget does not include funds for cross-sound ferry service, the agency plans to submit an amended budget to its board by January that will allow it to implement the fast-ferry proposal.

Kitsap Transit will also immediately begin recruiting for a ferry program director to lead the rollout of the new service as well as manage Kitsap Transit’s existing passenger-only ferries between Bremerton, Port Orchard and Annapolis.

Because Prop. 1 also provides dedicated revenue for Kitsap Transit’s existing foot ferries, $1.5 million will be returned to bus service. Kitsap Transit is bringing on a consultant to work with the community to weigh in on how those additional funds should be spent, including restoring Sunday service or extending hours of service on weekdays and Saturdays.

“It is our intention to deliver a seamless experience for our bus and ferry riders,” Clauson said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I want to take this moment to thank everyone who has worked on the fast-ferry plan over more than a decade to make this vision a reality.”

— Mark Briant is a reporter for the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. He can be reached at mbriant@soundpublishing.com.