If all goes as currently planned, the Elliott Bay Water Taxi‘s long-anticipated year-round operation will start a little more than a year from now. But first, some improvements – including a new dock and gangway worth about $2 million at Seacrest, in the configuration above, displayed Thursday night at Alki Community Center during a public meeting about the proposal. The gangway will be 80 feet long and 10 feet wide, to accommodate people walking in both directions, which doesn’t work well on the current 6-foot-wide gangway. The new dock will extend past the end of the fishing pier, and then join with a 75-foot-long north-south section where the boat will tie up, keeping it further away from divers. The meeting brought other updates about the foot ferry’s future — read on:
Though the meeting was supposed to focus on the dock proposal, other Water Taxi updates were provided by West Seattle’s County Councilmember Dow Constantine – who now chairs the council as well as the board of the King County Ferry District, which runs the EBWT and the Vashon foot ferry. He also took audience questions:
Major updates: Constantine said he’s trying to get talks going again regarding the Pier 1/2 proposal (past WSB coverage here) for the Water Taxi’s permanent home. He said he met this week with Seattle Port Commission President Bill Bryant to try to brainstorm “how to get a conversation going between all the parties involved” — but, he cautioned, that means a LOT of “parties” – the county, Ferry District, Port of Seattle, City of Seattle, federal government, tribes, “and very likely private investors all have to get on the same page in a complicated transaction which is not the kind of thing that’s easy to get done in the depths of the worst recession we’ve seen in decades.”
Also, in response to an audience question, he said plans were continuing to move ahead for the Ferry District to lease a boat for the Water Taxi, so that by the time it goes year-round in early 2010, it doesn’t have to keep running the slower Sightseer that’s been on the run for a few years (replacing an even-smaller boat):
(WSB photo of Sightseer at Seacrest, 2007)
Eventually, according to Constantine, the goal is a brand-new boat: “Our plan ultimately is to commission a boat for this run, and Vashon, something better suited, low wake, low emission, fuel efficient, stable with the kind of amenities we want on board for passengers.”
As for the timetable for next year’s launch of year-round service: This fall, service may stop sooner than usual – September is what’s tentatively planned – so there are a few months open for the dock construction. The actual on-site construction is only supposed to take about two weeks, likely in December, since the dock itself — which also includes a section more conducive to kayak use, important given that Alki Kayak Tours is based at Seacrest — will be built somewhere else; the project is expected to go to bid this July. They haven’t decided when the year-round service then would start up — depends on a variety of factors including expected ridership.
Another big piece of the puzzle for the Water Taxi’s future: How to get to it. For one, there’s the parking picture. Consulting firm KPG will be surveying parking around the area quarterly for the next three years; KPG’s Richard Hutchinson explains they’ll start “this quarter,” checking the area at all times of the day (as early as 5 am), and tracking license plates to see who’s parking where and for how long. As baseline information for the study, they have done an inventory on area parking: 392 spaces within “half a mile walking distance” of Seacrest, another 291 along Harbor Ave to The Bridge beyond the half-mile mark, 25 two-hour-max spaces at Seacrest, 100 four-hour-max spaces at Don Armeni, and other variables such as the Bronson “street end” and the Spokane Street park/ride area.
Another transportation issue, brought up in the Q and A section before the meeting broke back up into informal open-house circulation and conversation: The Water Taxi Shuttle buses. Said Constantine, “We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about how to make the dock more accessible to a larger part of the community by coordinating the shuttle sand what little Metro bus service there is on Alki.” His chief of staff Chris Arkills said they’re also tossing around ideas for improving the shuttle’s routing — “maybe a shuttle down Fauntleroy to Morgan Junction,” he said (the shuttle did go that far for a while in the ’90s), or, “there’s also a lot of excess capacity in the Park-and-Ride under the West Seattle Bridge – maybe use the shuttle to access that parking.” Constantine added that access from Delridge and Pigeon Point is a concern too.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners (chaired by Alki’s Jackie Ramels) will have to vote on the dock changes; three city meetings are ahead, including a public hearing in March.