Drivers resigned to Southworth stress
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:07 AM
"Unless an emergency calls him home early, Kevin Parr isn't too worried about the mid-day closures at the Southworth Ferry Terminal this fall, while contractors rush to replace its decaying timber wingwalls with steel ones.Parr shrugged his shoulders when he heard contractors intended to work on the $1 million project between Sept. 24 and Nov. 22, and that the Southworth terminal will be closed from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sunday through Friday.The computer network analyst says he departs early anyway, and ventures back to the peninsula in the early afternoon.The work has to be done, and the schedule changes don't really affect my commute, he explained Wednesday during an open house held by the WSF at Harper Evangelical Church. But I won't have as much flexibility.Parr is a walk-on, however, and his experience differs from vehicle-dependent commuters. Ferry workers fear drive-ons will feel the morning crunch more than ever, even though WSF schedulers tacked an 8:30 a.m. run from Southworth to Fauntleroy, doing away with the 9:15 a.m. departure. This shift could help commuters, since it creates an extra 20 vehicle spaces and establishes six total morning departures from Southworth.To tamp down further competition for vehicle space, WSF officials are advocating use of park-and-ride spaces in the South Kitsap area. Since most of the lots near the dock are at or near capacity, officials are negotiating with the Port Orchard Fred Meyer for use of the store's parking lot at Sedgwick and Bethel roads if necessary. If successful, WSF officials also plan to operate a ferry shuttle between the store and Southworth.Though crews will work at the Southworth terminal only, Vashon and West Seattle docks could feel the crunch as well. Ferry workers worry the West Seattle dock will clog up quickly since, during the midday closure, three vessels are schedule to run directly between Vashon to Fauntleroy. The scheduled departure and arrival times at Vashon nearly run down an entire page, said one ferry worker, who asked not to be identified.Still other factors could complicate arrival and departure times at Southworth before and after the mid-day closures, ferry workers say.Since contractors intend to focus on one wingwall at a time, ferry captains are expected to dock alongside the functional one during operating hours. That allows deck hands to secure the vessel against it with a spring line, preventing the ferry from banging into the weakened wingwall.The necessary operation, which ferry captains employed 12 years ago when the existing timber wingwalls were installed, could add several minutes to arrival and departure times, ferry workers say.But as Parr put it, and most commuters agree, the work has to be done and the closure is inevitable.So WSF officials tried to figure out the right time.They did that in February after conducting a survey among thousands of commuters to determine when they use the ferries most and, to no one's surprise, ridership dropped significantly from late morning to early afternoon.Joel Colby, a WSF marine project engineer, said the contractor, by working around mid-day, six days a week, can complete the job quickly and efficiently.The new steel wingwalls are expected to last at least 30 years, as opposed to the timber pilings, which have a lifespan of seven years.South Kitsap resident Steve Boustead doesn't disagree with Parr's outlook. But the Southworth-to-Vashon commuter did wonder earlier this week if he'd often be stuck on the island for hours during the construction period. WSF officials told him that, during the Southworth closure, two mid-day roundtrips will be added between Tahlequah and Point Defiance to alleviate congestion on the island. The most creative suggestion, though, is this new route between Vashon and Bremerton the ferries system developed, he said. I don't think many people will actually use it, but it's there.The round-trip route between Bremerton and Vashon departs from the island at 11 a.m weekdays and 1:15 p.m Sundays. The ferry service plans to redirect one of the vessels that shuttles between Vashon and West Seattle during the mid-day closures, to this new route.Bouread, a mail carrier, said it's an intriguing solution to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge problem.Anytime there is an accident on the bridge, the ferries are overwhelmed with commuters, he said. The entire ferry system over here is like a house of cards. If one falls, everything goes.For more detailed information about the closure and ferry schedule changes, call Sharon Ellsworth, the public involvement manager for the state Department of Transportation, at 360-705-7075."