Passenger-only ferry service connecting Southworth, Bremerton and Kingston with Seattle is being debated by Kitsap Transit board members. But the debate will end soon.
John Clauson, Kitsap Transit executive director, expects the board soon will authorize a vote of county residents on the board’s vision for this cross-Sound transportation plan.
Clauson spoke at a Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce luncheon March 10 and presented a brief overview of a project summary report the board had prepared that shows proposed routes, public feedback and funding options.
Clauson, who also is a Port Orchard City Council member, said the new passenger-only transportation option is necessary to help bridge a growing need for commuter service between Kitsap County and downtown Seattle. The growth rate is spurring the need to get more Kitsap residents into Seattle for work at a faster clip.
“We’ve found that the growth rate in the Puget Sound region between 2014 and 2015 was seven people per hour,” he told guests at the McCormick Woods Clubhouse.
“Jobwise, the growth rate was about nine jobs per hour. Port Orchard was on the top 10 list of the fastest-growing cities in Puget Sound, even with past annexation taken out of the equation. It is the only city on the list in Kitsap County.”
Service to Southworth
Under the passenger-only plan, South Kitsap would offer service to Seattle from Southworth and Bremerton. Kingston and North Kitsap also would have service, consisting of three round trips each for the morning and evening commutes.
“We made sure ridership was sufficient and would operate ferry service only during commute hours,” Clauson said. “We wished to go slow with our plan.”
Before settling on the three routes, Clauson and the board gauged interest and sought opinions from the Kitsap community through roundtable sessions and two random phone surveys of 400 people each.
“We heard loud and clear from people in the survey that they want service quickly into and out of Seattle,” he said.
Clauson said he believes the Kitsap community supports it, with roughly 72 percent of those surveyed supporting the service. In the fall survey, that number dropped somewhat to 62 percent.
Dollars and cents
A $48-million capital investment will be needed to launch passenger-only service, he said. The report indicated that about $26 million of that amount will be needed in the first four years to launch Bremerton and Kingston services.
Southworth service would be the third to be launched under the implementation plan, he told the chamber audience. Kitsap Transit has proposed using a 150-passenger boat that would provide 30-minute service between Southworth and Seattle. Travel times from Bremerton would run 35 minutes, from Kingston 40 minutes.
Clauson said the implementation plan initially called for a seven-year gap between plan approval and start of service. That length of a delay wouldn’t be acceptable to voters, he conceded, so the implementation date was subsequently moved up.
Service could begin six to nine months after a tax measure is approved by voters, he said.
The Southworth service delay stems from a need to build a new passenger-only vessel terminal southeast of the existing Washington State Ferries terminal. Cost to build the structure is estimated to be $8.3 million.
The board has been debating the funding options for two months. Clauson said he expects funding ultimately will come from multiple sources: fare revenue, grant funding, short-term bond funding and local taxes approved by Kitsap voters.
The local tax mechanism would come from a county public transportation benefit area that would call for a sales tax of 3 cents on a $10 purchase. Passengers are projected to pay $11 for roundtrip service on the Bremerton and Southworth routes, and $15 on the Kingston route. According to the report, service “is priced at a level that reflects the additional benefit of a fast, direct crossing.” The fares are projected at $3 more each round trip than the cost of current travel alternatives.
Annual ridership is projected at 217,700 riders on six roundtrip sailings per day from Bremerton, 177,600 projected riders from Kingston and 147,300 from Southworth.
A high-speed 150-passenger vessel would be acquired for Kingston, and a specially designed vessel for Kitsap Transit, Rich Passage 1, would be used for Bremerton.
The vessel would be designed to minimize wake on the Bremerton route.