Voters narrowly approve Kitsap Transit’s fast-ferry plan

PORT ORCHARD — Proposition 1, the proposal to fund a passenger-only ferry service between three Kitsap communities and Seattle, has passed by a narrow margin.

Updated election results Nov. 9 showed Prop. 1 winning with 47,929 votes, or 50 percent. Votes in opposition totaled 46,022, or 49 percent.

The measure establishes a sales tax of 0.03 percent to fund the operation of high-speed ferries, owned by Kitsap Transit, between Seattle and Bremerton, Kingston, and Southworth. The tax equals 3 cents on a $10 purchase.

According to Kitsap, service between Bremerton and Seattle will begin in 2017, Kingston-Seattle in 2018, and Southworth-Seattle in 2020.

Supporters say the proposal will make housing, jobs, and tourism opportunities more accessible to residents of both sides of the water. Opponents said Kitsap County residents would be subsidizing a system that would mostly benefit Seattleites, and feared that higher-wage earners in King County would be compelled to move here, where homes are less expensive, driving up the cost of real estate.

For Steve Sego, the question of whether to support Prop. 1 was a rhetorical question.

“I’ve lived and worked all over the world,” the Port Orchard businessman said. “But I actually grew up on Rich Passage. I felt a real connection to the water and to the boats that went past on their way to Bremerton.

“When I lived in Washington, D.C. and New York, I took public transit all the time. In D.C., especially, to commute to work I would take the bus and then the ferry.”

Because of legal restrictions on public agencies about what they can do to promote (or oppose) specific ballot measures, Kitsap Transit officials said the agency concentrated instead on providing information on the proposed ferry system so residents could make informed decisions on Election Day.

Instead, it fell to private residents like Sego to champion Prop. 1. Sego had his last chance to make that case Oct. 13 at the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce’s monthly membership meeting. But rather than simply pitch the fast ferries, Sego also shared the source of his lifelong passion to forward-reaching projects like this.

“Almost every major city in the world has good public transportation options like ferries and rail,” he said. “We just need a few visionaries who can see beyond a fight over what three-tenths of a percent means.”

Researchers have estimated the measure will cost each family approximately $59 per year. The measure will also provide the public transit system with $1.5 million in additional revenue — allowing for an estimated 23,000 additional hours of bus service in Kitsap County.

Walt Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee and the Port of Kingston Commission, believes his community will benefit from a passenger-only ferry service.

“Homes on the other side within a one-hour commute cost $700K,” he wrote in a letter to Kitsap News Group.

“With a 30-minute ferry ride, our Village Green, school campuses, and natural environment, North Kitsap is an affordable community that these young professionals can call home. Besides supporting our schools, fire, police, parks, roads, etc., these families will also be supporting the local businesses we need.”

He added, “The bottom line goes back to being connected to Seattle. In New York and San Francisco, foot ferries have revitalized all the towns they’ve touched, and we need that here.