M/V Solano, purchased last month by Kitsap Transit from a Bay Area transit agency, will ply Puget Sound waters on passenger-only, fast ferry sailings from Kitsap County into downtown Seattle in the coming months. (Kitsap Transit photo)

M/V Solano, purchased last month by Kitsap Transit from a Bay Area transit agency, will ply Puget Sound waters on passenger-only, fast ferry sailings from Kitsap County into downtown Seattle in the coming months. (Kitsap Transit photo)

The final piece: Southworth-downtown Seattle fast-ferry service begins March 29

Kitsap Transit to finally begin passenger-only sailings after COVID-19 delays

PORT ORCHARD — South Kitsap commuters who work in downtown Seattle can revel in some good news: the long-anticipated Kitsap Transit fast ferry route between Southworth and downtown Seattle will begin service on Monday, March 29.

On Monday, the transit agency posted the service start date on its Facebook page. An agency news release was expected to be made by Kitsap Transit on Wednesday after the Independent’s press deadline. Officials said the agency is still awaiting final schedule approval from Washington State Ferries before it would make an official announcement.

The announcement means Kitsap Transit’s three planned routes of rapid, passenger-only ferries connecting Kitsap Peninsula and downtown Seattle finally have been extended to county residents, as promised by Proposition 1, a 0.3 percent sales-tax measure approved by voters in 2016. Scheduled service between Bremerton and Seattle began on vessels Lady Swift and Reliance in July 2017. And in November 2018, the Kingston-Seattle route started service on the fast-ferry vessel Finest from the north end of the county.

This last leg of passenger-only service from the south end means commuters will be able to cross Puget Sound between Seattle and Southworth in 23 minutes. Service from Bremerton takes 30 minutes and commutes by Kingston riders to and from downtown Seattle takes 35 minutes. Those sailings shave roughly half the time from existing routes provided by WSF vessels to downtown Seattle and West Seattle/Fauntleroy.

The Southworth route will be handled by Enetai, a 255-passenger bow-loading vessel designed and built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.

While the COVID-19 pandemic hampered plans to inaugurate service in 2020, it did create a fallow market for passenger-only boats, from which Kitsap Transit benefited. Last month, Kitsap Transit purchased a backup vehicle, M/V Solano, from the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority for $1 million, well under its listed price of $4 million from a broker.

That vessel is to be drydocked in the Puget Sound area and retrofitted for service here.

Kitsap Transit began laying the groundwork to restore fast-ferry service after WSF ended passenger-only service between Bremerton and Seattle after property owners along Rich Passage sued the state over damage to beaches they blamed on the state’s large passenger-only ferries.

In 2015, state legislators — led by delegations representing Kitsap County — generated support for a transportation revenue package and a provision enabling local transit entities like Kitsap Transit to create voter-approved ferry districts.

Using that leverage, local leaders, including Bremerton’s then-Mayor Patty Lent and Friends of the Fast Ferry group — led by Steve Sego, Coreen Haydock and Wes Larson, Jon Rose and Jeremy Stitt — generated community interest and awareness of Kitsap Transit’s fast-ferry expansion plans, which resulted in the approval of the sales-tax measure supporting passenger-only service on three Kitsap routes into downtown Seattle.

Kitsap Transit and WSF began preliminary work this month that will lead to a reconfiguration of the Southworth Ferry Terminal so it can better handle the new service.

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