Washington’s ferry problems demand innovative solutions

Kitsap County is a ferry-dependent community.

Nearly 40,000 riders use Washington State Ferries (WSF) daily to commute to work, go to a ball game or visit the Olympic Peninsula on one of the four routes that serve Kitsap County.

These riders on the Bremerton, Bainbridge, Kingston and Southworth boats combined make up 60 percent of the total trips on the system.

A significant change to WSF service levels will have a major impact on our community.

This past December, WSF released two long-range capital plan alternatives for consideration.

“Plan A” made minor improvements to the system between now and 2030. It also possessed a $3.1 billion capital shortfall.

“Plan B” possessed a much smaller deficit of $1.7 billion however, cuts would be made by reducing the number of boats on the Bremerton run to one, eliminating night service on the Kingston/Edmonds boat much of the year and reducing the Southworth/Vashon/Fauntleroy run to two boats.

“Plan B” would be disastrous for Kitsap.

Today, the hour-long Bremerton/Seattle ferry has a lengthy mid-day gap and less frequent service in the evenings than the Bainbridge/Seattle run.

As a Silverdale resident, I am often forced to take the Bainbridge boat due to its more frequent service over the Bremerton run, even though it takes me nearly twice as long to drive to the Bainbridge terminal over Bremerton.

Reduction of the Bremerton/Seattle run to only one boat would mean a boat would depart a terminal every two hours at best.

This would force many Central Kitsap residents to commute via the Bainbridge/Seattle run, or even worse, drive around the entire Sound to reach their destination.

The Kitsap County Board of Commission-ers, along with our four mayors, is working to support our legislators as they fight to protect our ferry service.

Rep. Christine Rolfes recently called for flexibility in the procurement process in order to reduce vessel construction costs and allow WSF to compete for federal transportation funds.

Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Seaquist is leading the charge with other leaders to craft an alternative ferry plan that seeks to make WSF’s long range plan reflective of the desire of its riders.

This effort, called “Citizens Write Plan C” is a grassroots effort by local residents to provide constructive feedback to WSF as they move forward with adopting a long-range capital plan.

Schedules, vessel construction and transit coordination are among the issues being addressed by this group.

Information about their efforts can be found online at www.citizenswriteplanc.com.

The ferries are critical not only to our way of life, but serve as a vital transportation corridor for the entire region.

The more effective WSF is at moving riders, the less likely people will drive around through the Tacoma Narrows to get to east Puget Sound.

The governor and Legislature have sought to make Washington state a model in the nation for linking land use and transportation, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kitsap County has the second lowest single-occupancy commuter rate in Washington state in large part to WSF.

The recession our nation is currently facing has eroded resources available to support investments in our ferries.

However, WSF did not enter into this quagmire overnight. Years of neglect has put WSF in this precarious state.

It would be a mistake for WSF to adopt a long-range capital plan for the next 22 years that is based on revenue shortfalls during this historic recession.

Instead, now is the time to craft a ferry plan that meets our regional and statewide transportation goals, enhancing our communities.

Our nine legislators in Kitsap County are fighting on our behalf. Local leaders are rallying to support them.

We need the support of our entire community if we are to be successful.

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