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I-695 could kill ferry dock expansion

"The good part is Washington State Ferries is going full-steam ahead with plans to expand the Southworth Ferry Dock to accommodate passenger-only ferries.The bad part is officials say this forward-thinking scheme could capsize if Initiative 695 passes Nov. 2.“If the initiative passes, passenger ferries will go away,” said Dick Hayes, Kitsap Transit executive director. “Then the question becomes, ‘Is it wise to expand the dock if there are no ferries to occupy it?’”That’s because Referendum 49, which Washington voters approved in 1996, called for more foot ferries, among other broad-sweeping transportation improvements. Problem is, funding for these ferries is supposed to come from future motor vehicle excise taxes. Because I-695 proposes to reduce all license tab fees to $30, its approval slashes foot ferry funds.This was upsetting news to a group of Southworth neighbors who gathered at Harper Church Oct. 4 to talk about expansion with Kitsap County Transit and Washington State Ferries officials. As it is, the $20 million project is intended to transport commuters from Southworth to downtown Seattle in 30 minutes.Two slips would be built at the south end of the existing dock, from which a wide walkway would extend about 1,000 feet up to the parking lot. About half that distance would be covered to keep commuters out of the elements.A transit-only lane that bypasses the toll booths would be built parallel to the sidewalk, down to the car-ferry loading area. To accommodate the transit lane, about 60 existing parking spaces would be eliminated. The north end of the dock would be extended at its widest point by 70 feet. This enlarged area could serve as a turn-around point for Kitsap buses that normally back in. Aside from I-695 implications, one concern remained: What about disabled folks? Even from the dockside bus drop-off, there is a 630 foot walk from bus to passenger ferries.“I would be afraid I wouldn’t make it in time,” one woman said. “As it is, I’m the last to get off of ferries.”Solutions suggested by audience members ranged from free wheelchairs to golf-cart like rigs.Yet, seeing to these details provided little comfort when fears of I-695 struck some as Hayes described the changes in transit services that could occur come January 2000.Service hours would be reduced, routes combined, and fares raised.One bright spot is that Southworth ferry commuters would be the least affected by these cuts.According to John Clauson, Port Orchard City Council member and Kitsap Transit representative, buses going to and from the ferry docks would, for the most part, run as usual during peak-commuter hours.However, if Kitsap Transit can’t make up for lost revenue caused by I-695’s chokehold in the second-half of 2000, then there would be further cuts in Southworth service."

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