By Tania Issa, Susan Golden and Beth Berglund
This is the sixth in a series of columns focusing on the topics that were selected by participants at the March 2019 Kingston Community Conversation. The 2020 Kingston Community Conversation will be from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 4 at the Village Green Community Center.
This month’s column will tackle the topic of transportation. Last month we briefly touched on intra-county public transit and specifically the challenges faced by people who try to use Kitsap Transit buses to get from the greater Kingston region to services and appointments elsewhere in the county and some ideas for making that service more convenient. Most of the transportation-related angst expressed by our neighbors relates to the congestion associated with ferry traffic.
Kingston has been a ferry town since 1923. Each year we face longer stretches of time when the drive-on customer demand exceeds Kingston-Edmonds ferry capacity. Informal counts indicate that we can experience more than 500 vehicles arriving each hour while ferry capacity is limited to about 200 vehicles per sailing and about 300 vehicles in the terminal holding lot. The excess demand fills Kingston’s streets and the shoulders of State Route 104. WSF tries to provide us with information about space availability, length of backups, and wait times with email alerts, apps, internet web pages, “ferry cams,” the Highway Advisory Radio, (HAR), and the large Variable Message Signs (VMS) along approaches to the terminals, but often those solutions aren’t giving customers the detail they need to make informed decisions about whether to take the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry, drive across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or delay their trip until traffic dissipates.
Fact: the Kingston-Edmonds ferry terminal is WSF’s highest-revenue route in their system. Fact: Kingston has been waiting for decades for much-needed improvements.
In long-range plans, solutions include adding a third ferry to the Kingston-Edmonds route, employing a reservations system, and adding an auxiliary holding lot just west of the intersection at Lindvog Road and SR 104.
In the short term, when Washington State Patrol (WSP) resources are available, they can successfully keep the excess volume from jamming up Kingston by holding cars on the shoulder west of Lindvog Road and metering cars in small batches through town to the WSF toll booths until the ferry lot is full. But the uncertainty of WSP availability as well as safety issues connected with managing traffic on the shoulder remains problematic. Specifically, Kingston residents find themselves stuck in or blocked by gridlocked ferry traffic. Customers of Kingston businesses avoid the weekend congestion and face blocked entrances, making it difficult for many businesses to thrive. Ferry customers who are late to notice the shoulder holding line often block the travel lanes or sometimes pull unsafe and illegal U-turns on the highway to get back into the ferry line.
While it could be said that little has changed so far, that hasn’t been for lack of trying on the part of Kingston residents who are volunteering through a variety of channels to accurately define and document these transportation issues, identify and prioritize potential solutions, and seek funding for near term help while also planning for permanent long-term solutions. We invite you to participate with one or more of the groups focusing on Kingston ferry transportation issues. Consider attending the annual Kingston Community Conversation, attend a Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting which gathers at 6:30 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at the Village Green Community Center, or attend a Kingston Citizens Advisory Committee Transportation Committee monthly meeting which are held at 8 a.m. on the fourth Friday of every month, generally at the Kingston Coffee Oasis.
If you’re on Facebook you may have noticed that a social network community “Kingston Traffic Solutions” has also been created to make it easy to share concerns, information and ideas, and get real-time reports of traffic backups.
Citizens of Greater Kingston need to keep the pressure on those with the power to prioritize their time and our tax money which are your State Legislators and WSDOT/WSF senior management. Senator Christine Rolfes
We look forward to seeing you at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 4 at the Village Green Community Center for the 2020 Kingston Community Conversation.