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DOT updates ferry plans

While regional chambers of commerce pushed for a Port Ludlow-to-Kingston vehicle and walk-on ferry route during the slated 2009 Hood Canal bridge closure, the Washington Department of Transportation has sided with informal survey results and is going to push forward with a walk-on only ferry between South Point and Lofall.

“Ultimately, the public opinion lined up with everything we know about the costs, the risks, and the facts and figures for the South Point to Lofall route,” said Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond in a statement.

DOT received nearly 4,000 survey responses from the Internet and over the phone, 42 percent of which indicated support for the Lofall route. The Port Ludlow-Kingston route gathered support from 32 percent of the respondents and 26 percent indicated neither option would help.

The Hood Canal bridge is slated to be closed for a retrofit and replacement project, which will take place on its eastern half from May-June 2009. Now DOT officials must line up the necessary permits, contractors and equipment to prepare landings for the ferry route at the two locations on either site of the canal by Jan. 15, when the salmon migration closes construction in the waterway.

DOT officials estimate the cost for setting up and operating the South Point-Lofall ferry to be about $3 million, compared to the $4.5 million estimate for the Port Ludlow-Kingston route.

“With fuel prices on the rise, the South Point to Lofall option offers less financial risk to the project due to the shortness of the route and the number of boats needed,” a DOT statement reads, indicating the top priority to riders would be reliability. “The South Point to Lofall option addresses these issues by using two boats to maintain a 20-minute schedule and 40-minute service even with one boat.”

DOT plans to have ample parking on both sides of the waterway. Piling, dock and parking lot work is set to begin within weeks on the South Point side of the route in Jefferson County, about a mile south of the bridge. DOT still is lining up the necessary permits to begin similar work on the Lofall side, which sits across the water in North Kitsap County.

DOT Olympic Region administrator Kevin Dayton said the regional chambers of commerce, most notably those from Port Townsend and Port Angeles, were instrumental in gathering information and hoped to continue the relationship regardless of which route was chosen.

“The local chambers of commerce have taken the interests of their constituents to heart and passionately advocated for those options,” Dayton said of the Port Townsend-Kingston and Port Ludlow-Kingston routes. “We look forward to continuing partnerships with them as we both focus on getting ready for the closure.”

DOT indicated in its statement that the vehicle ferry routes were not likely to go forward but that it would continue to look into the alternatives.

“Written comments showed people want to stay in their cars and while the Port Townsend to Edmonds vehicle ferry would allow this, WSDOT is not currently in a position to offer this option,” the statement reads.

Officials have given two reasons, the available funding and the availability of vehicle ferries for the route.

In other ferry news, the Washington Legislature allocated funding to replace the two Steel Electric-class ferries that were decommissioned from the Port Townsend-Keystone route in late 2007. The replacements are likely to come in 2010.

For more Washington State Department of Transportation or ferry system news, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov.

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