Effects from Hood Canal Bridge disaster felt today | FerryFare

Brrrr … The spaces between the glass panes that allow the wind to blow through Kingston’s passenger ramp are there to allow the panes to be turned for cleaning. WSF has been looking into upgrading our waiting area’s comfort. But don’t put away your pocket warmer yet.

For whom the bridge tolls: “That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed, when the gales of November came early” (from Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”). Our Hood Canal Bridge got a thorough chewing on Feb. 13, 1979.

The mountains that bring pleasant weather to Sequim can do the opposite on the Hood Canal. KING-TV’s Jeff Renner described the phenomenon: When winds blow out of the southwest, some of the air swirls around the sides of the Olympics while other air flows over their crest. When they meet in the Hood Canal, it’s called “lee-side troughing.” This was the local, low-pressure system that intensified the already high winds in the Hood Canal that February.

It was a dark and stormy night. With winds of 60 mph or greater, the bridge’s pontoons undulated dangerously. An earlier low tide had caused the cables holding the bridge to slacken. With the wind and flood current pushing in the same direction, the bridge was bowing. By 2 a.m., Charles Myers opened it to relieve the pressure. When George Tyner, also a bridge tender, arrived at 6:30, the wind was up to 87 mph and gusting to 100. The 15-foot waves sweeping over the bridge had dislodged deck hatches and the pontoons were flooding.

With their control tower starting to careen, Meyers and Tyner abandoned ship (bridge) in Tyner’s pickup. Shortly afterward, the west pontoon broke loose and sank, taking Meyer’s Plymouth Fury with it. During the next 10 minutes, they watched 12 west-side pontoons sink. Thanks to the opening, the east side pontoons survived.

Within a week, the Department of Transportation had the Kaleetan running from Edmonds to Port Townsend. A week later, the passenger ferry Islander was running between Lofall and South Point while the truck ferry Beach Girl was running between Salsbury Point and Shine.

Because of soap-opera-like foul-ups, the delivery of new Issaquah-class ferries had been delayed and WSF was short on boats. So, WSDOT came up with a scheme of using tugs and barges to move cars and passengers on the Lofall run. Barge service started in December and the Islander was retired.

The barges soon proved unreliable and unpopular; by February, Klickitat was added to the run. Barges were also unwieldy. Their coup de grace came when a tug found itself under a barge’s bow and was rolled over, killing a crew member. After that, only ferries were used. Klickitat was joined by Klahowya, Kulshan and Illahee to take turns at Lofall.

The bridge remained closed for three and a half years. When the bridge sank, its tolls were subsidizing ferry operations. With the loss of the bridge’s tolls, ferry funding was shifted to a gas tax. In the 1990s, Washington State Ferries swapped its gas tax for a 34 percent slice of Washington’s then-lucrative Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, or MVET. That cash went away in 1998 when voters cut the MVET down to a simple $30 license fee. While other agencies funded by the MVET, such as transit, went out and solved their shortfall, WSDOT tried to fill the gap by raising fares — a lot. That briefly got revenue up to 80 percent of costs. Increased labor and fuel costs quickly gobbled up this revenue, leaving WSF with the 30 percent shortfall we have today.

Your Ferry Advisory Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the Village Green Community Center.

— Walt Elliott is a member of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee. Email elliottmoore@comcast.net.