(WSB photo from April 23)
Exactly two months after news that King County would take possession of the Spirit of Kingston and put it on the West Seattle Water Taxi run – the change is about to happen. We just got word from the office of King County Councilmember Joe McDermott that Spirit of Kingston will take over the run starting tomorrow (Saturday), which means that, after three years, 25-year-old Rachel Marie will become a backup boat. Kingston got the 7-year-old SoK through federal grants but scrapped its foot-ferry service and would have had to pay the grants back if this transfer – which brings the boat here almost for free, as explained in our November report – hadn’t happened. More to come.
ADDED 1:39 PM: The county’s official announcement has just arrived via e-mail – read on:
4:38 PM: Just announced: King County is canceling the West Seattle Water Taxi route for the rest of the night. No formal word yet on the problem, but about 10 minutes before the announcement, Maggie had noted via Twitter that Rachel Marie hadn’t sailed at 4:15 pm and had some mechanical work going on. We’re checking to see if there’s any word yet about the likelihood of service resuming tomorrow morning. After multiple breakdowns, Rachel Marie is to be replaced soon by the newly acquired Spirit of Kingston, but last word from the county was that it wouldn’t happen before mid-May, because they had to finish training, followed by “regulatory inspections.”
6:07 PM: And – Rachel Marie has returned to service, leaving downtown a short time ago, the county has now announced.
This is our closest look yet at Spirit of Kingston, the future West Seattle Water Taxi vessel, since the King County Marine Division took possession last month – it’s been parked behind a fence at the county’s also-new maintenance barge while crews have been in training, but today we happened to be at Seacrest during one of its test runs. We’re checking with the county Department of Transportation to see if there’s an update on when it’ll be put into service to replace the older and breakdown-prone Rachel Marie.
Reminder that the West Seattle Water Taxi starts its spring/summer/fall schedule tomorrow, which means not only 7-day-a-week operation, but also the return of midday runs, since the winter schedule only handles the morning and afternoon commutes. You can see the new schedule here. But don’t expect to see the newly acquired vessel Spirit of Kingston tomorrow; county reps told WSB earlier this week that crew members are training and other work is under way before they put it into service to replace Rachel Marie (shown above in a WSB file photo).
(Tuesday photo by Don Brubeck)
The future West Seattle Water Taxi vessel Spirit of Kingston has been spotted out on at least one test run since arriving at its new home port last week. But while the King County Department of Transportation’s Marine Division was at one point expecting to launch it on the run when the 7-day-a-week schedule takes effect next week, we’re told it won’t happen quite so fast – according to KCDOT and the office of King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the county Ferry District Board, they will delay the debut a while, possibly a few weeks, for training. The spring/summer/fall schedule still launches on Monday, though – and you can see it here.
The new West Seattle Water Taxi vessel Spirit of Kingston has arrived on the downtown waterfront and is docked alongside the county’s new maintenance barge. (We noticed it late Friday via MarineTraffic.com, though it’s now listed as “out of range.”) This is the only view we could get today, but you’ll surely see it out and about soon, since it’s scheduled to take over the West Seattle-downtown run by the time the 7-day-a-week schedule kicks in on Monday, April 8th. Spirit of Kingston’s capacity is slightly less than the run’s current vessel, Rachel Marie, but based on ridership averages, that won’t be an issue till the heart of summer, if then. The 8-year-old catamaran was originally purchased for its namesake town with the help of federal grants, and that’s why it could be transferred here basically for free, since Kingston cut its passenger-ferry service and didn’t need it any more. King County, meantime, will use federal grants to pay for two brand-new boats that will start construction soon.
(Photo courtesy King County Ferry Board chair Joe McDermott’s office)
One week ago, we reported on the King County Ferry Board’s Executive Committee agreeing to accept the Spirit of Kingston and the recommendation that it take over the West Seattle Water Taxi run once it arrives. This afternoon, the county announced the Ferry Board has finalized the deal, and the move should happen when 7-day-a-week service resumes in a few weeks:
The Spirit of Kingston, the 65-foot catamaran that once ferried passengers between Kingston and Seattle, is about to become part of the King County Ferry District’s fleet of water taxis. The District unanimously voted today to acquire the eight year-old vessel at no purchase cost through an agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) – the agency that originally provided grant funding to the Port of Kingston to purchase the vessel.
More news from the King County Ferry District, including a followup on part of this morning’s report:
The Ferry District board chair, West Seattle’s County Councilmember Joe McDermott, shared the view from his office as the county’s new maintenance and moorage barge arrived from Tacoma – that’s it on the center-left side of the photo. It’s 40′ by 120′ and was built mostly in Portland, then towed to Tacoma for the final phase of work. It has a few more weeks of work to go, hooking up utilities and so on, before it’s ready for use.
This afternoon, the Ferry Board’s executive committee approved the letter we mentioned this morning, officially accepting the transfer of the Spirit of Kingston, no longer needed after a passenger run ended between Seattle and Kingston. It’s an 8-year-old, 65-foot catamaran that was at first proposed to be used as a Water Taxi backup, though, checking Ferry District meeting records, we note Marine Division staff recommended that it become the primary West Seattle vessel. (We’ll check on where that stands.)
The two older boats on the West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi runs don’t have to hang on too much longer; the executive committee also was briefed this afternoon on the county’s plan to put out RFPs (requests for proposals) by month’s end for two new aluminum catamarans with capacity up to 250 passengers. An earlier step in the process drew qualified responses from Bellingham’s All American Marine and a team led by Seattle’s Kvichak Marine, according to the newest Water Taxi newsletter. If the process proceeds as planned, the first boat may be delivered in the third quarter of next year, with the second one a few months later. The current boats are leased, not owned.
(August 2011 photo of Spirit of Kingston at Seattle dock, by Oran Viriyincy, via Flickr)
Two notes this morning about the King County Ferry District, the agency responsible for the Water Taxi. First, its board’s Executive Committee meets this afternoon, and will consider a resolution to formalize and finalize bringing the Spirit of Kingston (backstory here and here) into the fleet as a virtually free backup.
Second – the Legislature is considering a bill, co-sponsored by local State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, that would kill the Ferry District (as well as the county Flood Control District) and consolidate operations into the rest of county government. But that’s a good thing, local County Councilmember Joe McDermott tells WSB:
For the second time in less than a month, the West Seattle Water Taxi run’s regular vessel Rachel Marie is out for repairs, so the county has just announced that Melissa Ann will handle the run tomorrow. It in turn will be replaced on the Vashon run by the Victoria Clipper. You might recall that the county’s been working on getting a new backup boat, the Spirit of Kingston, which was built with a federal grant that would enable it to be transferred here since its original owners don’t need it any more. It may be just a few weeks away – Kingston Community News reports that it’s about to leave that community for a week-long “pre-transfer survey” in Port Townsend; last time we checked with King County Councilmember and Ferry Board chair Joe McDermott‘s office, that was one of the last steps before delivering the boat here.
If you are thinking about taking the West Seattle Water Taxi tomorrow morning just in case the I-5/Beacon Hill ramp closures bring extra bridge backup – just a reminder, you can’t; both Water Taxi runs are out of service on Presidents Day.
P.S. 7-day-a-week WT service resumes April 8th.
Just in from King County:
Due to a mechanical issue on the Rachel Marie Tuesday night, there will be no water taxi service on the West Seattle route for Wednesday morning, February 13. Normal service will resume beginning with the 3:45 pm departure on Wednesday afternoon from Pier 50.
(WSB file photo of the West Seattle Water Taxi, May 2011)
There’s scheduling news from today’s meeting of the King County Ferry District Board – county councilmembers wearing their marine hats, overseeing West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi operations. First, one small tweak that local families say will make a big difference; second, a big-picture commitment that should be a relief to local professional sports fans. Details on both, ahead:
If you check out the West Seattle Water Taxi ridership numbers for October and November, you’ll notice a double-digit ridership drop for each of those months, year-to-year. October was down almost 19 percent from a year earlier, November was down 18 percent. (December numbers aren’t posted yet.)
One thing that occurred to us shortly after noticing those numbers: October marked the launch of the RapidRide C Line and the restructuring of other West Seattle bus routes, including a cut in service on Route 37, which serves the West Seattle waterfront. West Seattle’s County Councilmember Joe McDermott chairs the WT-overseeing King County Ferry District Board; legislative assistant Michelle Allison acknowledges that could be part of the reason:
The Ferry District and the Marine Division have been working to better understand these numbers as well. There are a couple of reasons why we think the ridership has taken a bit of a dip.
(August 2011 photo of Spirit of Kingston at Seattle dock, by Oran Viriyincy, via Flickr)
Two weeks ago, we reported on the King County Ferry District‘s move to express interest in a federally funded boat no longer needed by its current owners. We’ve just followed up on the status of the Spirit of Kingston’s future – and it appears the boat is an almost sure bet to come be part of the King County Water Taxi system.
The Kitsap Sun reports that the Spirit of Kingston – which discontinued the Kingston-Seattle foot-ferry service for which it procured the boat – has passed a resolution to transfer it to King County. Transferring it means the Port of Kingston won’t have to pay back the $2 million-plus in federal grants that paid for the boat, which is slightly smaller, and much newer (7 years vs. almost 25 years). Now, King County just has to finalize the deal; that won’t happen before the first of the year, according to Michelle Allison, legislative assistant to County Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the King County Ferry District Board. She says he has formally sent the board-authorized letter of interest to the Federal Transit Administration, and a meeting between King County Marine Division and FTA is coming up, but one more KC Ferry Board vote is needed “to finalize the asset transfer.” The date for that is not yet set. As noted in our report from last month, the Spirit of Kingston would likely be used as a backup to both King County’s current leased boats and its future new boats (which also are being funded with federal grant money).
(August 2011 photo of Spirit of Kingston at Seattle dock, by Oran Viriyincy, via Flickr)
Right after the holiday weekend, the King County Ferry District Board will consider taking a step toward acquiring a third boat at little or no cost – even before it builds its own two new boats for West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi service. This was first reported by KUOW, and we have since followed up with the office of County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the board. The boat is the 65-foot catamaran Spirit of Kingston, now idle after Kingston-Seattle foot-ferry service ceased. Here’s what McDermott legislative aide Michelle Allison tells WSB:
The Port of Kingston recently discontinued service from Kingston to Seattle and announced they would no longer be a passenger ferry service provider. Their primary vessel, the Spirit of Kingston, is available for transfer to another public agency with no capital cost outlay to that entity. The vessel was purchased for 2 million dollars using Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding. The vessel is certified to carry 147 passengers and a crew of three. Due to the FTA investment, there may be an opportunity to obtain the vessel at no cost to the King County Ferry District (KCFD).
The Marine Division (KCMD) has evaluated the costs and potential savings associated with obtaining a third vessel and found that in addition to improving operational and service reliability, the addition of the Spirit of Kingston to the KCFD fleet would reduce overall expenses over the next five years and beyond.
Specifically, KCMD is recommending that Spirit of Kingston be brought into the KCFD fleet as the primary West Seattle Water Taxi vessel, and move the Rachel Marie into back-up vessel service. When the new vessels are constructed, the Spirit of Kingston would be moved into back-up vessel service. This approach increases reliability and is anticipated to save more than $425,000 on lease and rental expenses over the next five years.
Last week the Executive Committee passed a motion supporting the Chair in writing a letter of interest that would be submitted to the FTA. The full Board will weigh in on November 26th. If the full Board supports the motion, the Chair will then write the letter to the FTA. The final decision is up to the FTA but would also require one more action of the Board to approve the transfer of the asset. … As you know, we are currently running a two-boat, two-route operation so the option of a third boat as a back-up vessel with no capital cost to the Ferry District is very appealing.
Port Townsend had been interested in the Spirit of Kingston, but is reported to have shelved its plan for a foot ferry to Seattle, so King County may not have any competition if it finalizes interest in the boat.
Rachel Marie, as Water Taxi riders know, has had multiple problems in recent months. The Spirit of Kingston is slightly smaller – 65 feet compared to RM’s 77 feet – but much newer, built in 2005, while RM (as noted in this WSB report before the county leased it in 2010) was built in 1988. According to a detailed briefing paper that Allison also provided (you can read it here), the district has three options for deploying Spirit of Kingston if it’s obtained – including saving even more money in 2014, by letting one of its current vessel leases expire 9 months before the newly built boats come into service.
99/ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT CLOSURE REMINDER: In case you’ve somehow missed it – one last reminder before tomorrow, Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct between the Battery Street Tunnel and West Seattle Bridge will be closed in BOTH DIRECTIONS for most of the weekend. The closure for the twice-yearly inspection (and ongoing maintenance work) is scheduled to start at 6 am Saturday and end no later than 4 pm Sunday. Bus riders, note there is a reroute associated with this too:
From Saturday morning, October 6 at 6:00 AM, until Sunday afternoon, October 7 at 4:00 PM, Metro bus routes 120, 125, & the RapidRide C Line will be rerouted off the Alaskan Way Viaduct to accommodate work being performed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Viaduct bus routes will use alternate surface streets instead to and from the West Seattle Bridge. The only bus stops that will be missed are westbound on Columbia St at 2nd Av when leaving downtown to West Seattle, and eastbound on Seneca St between 2nd and 3rd avenues when arriving downtown. Heading to West Seattle, board buses southbound on 3rd Av between Seneca and Spring streets, or just south of Columbia St. There are not stops after Columbia St.
SPOKANE ST. VIADUCT RAMP CLOSURE SATURDAY MORNING: Also, a reminder that the 1st Avenue South OFFRAMP on the westbound Spokane Street Viaduct is scheduled to be closed 3 am-9 am Saturday.
WEST SEATTLE WATER TAXI RUNS FOR SOUNDERS FANS: This Sunday, and again October 21st, the county will add West Seattle Water Taxi runs for Sunday night Sounders games. See the shaded times on the schedule. (And remember that the WT will change to its offseason schedule at the end of this month – starting Monday, October 29th.)
County Executive Dow Constantine also unveiled his budget plan today – and the county Department of Transportation calls our attention to the fact it includes the previously announced funding for new water-taxi vessels:
The 2013-14 biennial budget submitted today by King County Executive Dow Constantine includes $12.5 million for the design and construction of two new water taxis, subject to approval by the King County Ferry District. Federal grants will cover 80 percent of the total cost of the vessels with the balance coming from Ferry District revenues.
The County’s Marine Division currently operates passenger-only ferry service from downtown Seattle to West Seattle and Vashon Island using two twenty-plus year-old leased vessels that require frequent maintenance. The new boats are expected to carry between 225 and 250 passengers each.
Following approval of the budget, a request for proposals focused on vessel performance specifications will be issued. The county will then evaluate the proposals to determine which shipyard will construct the boats. The Marine Division anticipates issuing an award for construction of both vessels in early 2013.
The Marine Division expects delivery of the first vessel in early to mid-2014 with delivery of the second vessel expected by mid 2014.
A reminder from the West Seattle Water Taxi: It’ll have evening runs next Monday and Thursday for the Seahawks and Huskies games. The county says it’ll have extended evening service for all such games until the end of the summer/fall schedule on October 28th.
(WSB photo, October 2011)
Good news for early-bird commuters – the King County Ferry District Board (aka King County Council) has approved a fall/winter schedule change. Here’s the official announcement:
When the water taxi begins its winter commute schedule for West Seattle on Monday, October 29, riders will be able to depart at 6:15 a.m. from Seacrest Park. This is thirty minutes earlier than the present 6:45 a.m. first departure, which does not accommodate commuters who need to arrive to work by 7:00 a.m.
The 6:15 a.m. run was the most popular of the added sailings last October during the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure week and was used by many new commuters working in health-care fields headed to First Hill and other riders looking to get an early start to their work day. This new departure will replace the current 9:15 a.m. departure from Seacrest dock. The last sailing of the morning from Seacrest Park will be at 8:45 a.m. The afternoon water taxi sailing schedule will remain the same.
Here’s the full fall/winter schedule. Wondering if the WSWT will keep the 6:15 am beyond winter? We asked spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok, who says that will be part of a “larger budget conversation” next year, and that its popularity will of course be watched.
P.S. This coming Monday – Labor Day – the West Seattle Water Taxi will be on a Sunday schedule, while the Vashon Water Taxi will not run.
Announced by the county this afternoon:
The King County Water Taxi’s West Seattle route will be running its extended sailing schedules for this Thursday’s Seahawks game on August 30 and for Saturday’s Huskies game on September 1. In addition to the final scheduled departure at downtown Seattle’s Pier 50 at 10:30 pm, we will run one additional departure from Pier 50 at 11:00 pm each night. The final two departures from Seacrest Park those nights will be at 10:45 pm and 11:10 pm.
11:54 AM: King County has been working to get approval for higher capacity on its two Water Taxi vessels (as first mentioned in January) – and County Councilmember Joe McDermott says that permission has just been received. The West Seattle boat, Rachel Marie, and Vashon boat, Melissa Ann, had been certified to carry up to 150 people each; now, each is certified for up to 172. Councilmember McDermott says the 5:30 pm sailing to Vashon last night was the first to utilize the new capacity, carrying 163 people; the island trips, he says, “regularly sell out.” During all of last year, 130 trips sailed at the 150-passenger capacity, between the two runs, and without the capacity increase, McDermott says, this year would have beaten that.
7:11 PM NOTE: The county sent a news release about this late today – see it here.
(Photo of Rachel Marie and firefighters during this morning’s smoke incident, by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)
1:55 PM: This morning’s West Seattle Water Taxi trouble (WSB coverage here) led us to ask about the status of the new boats that have long been in the pipeline. West Seattle’s County Councilmember, and Ferry District Board chair, Joe McDermott replied that the money for replacement boats is in this year’s budget: “80 percent of the funds are federal grant monies, and the required 20 percent match is from ferry district funds. Total cost for two boats is estimated to be $10 million to $13 million.” He says the Marine Division of the county Transportation Department is “taking the lead,” with a project-management firm hired and a request for proposals/qualifications under development, to go public by early next year, with “the new boats in service probably 2014.”
3:41 PM: The county subsequently has sent a news release on the same topic – see it here.
4:06 PM: Rachel Marie, by the way, has just been cleared to return to service, says the county, and will be back on the West Seattle run as of the 4:15 pm departure from downtown. Councilmember McDermott says, ” Some excellent work all day by the Marine Division. My appreciation to them and all of our riders for their understanding and cooperation.”
(TOPLINE: Water Taxi evacuated 7:30 am after smoke led captain to return it to dock. Service resuming at 11:30 from Pier 50 with Melissa Ann)
(Added, photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB – firefighters on board Rachel Marie)
FIRST REPORT, 7:38 AM: Just got an alert that the West Seattle Water Taxi is having mechanical trouble and has returned to Seacrest. Jana, who was on the sailing, tweeted that a “strong smell (was) emanating from the engine room.”
— Jana Uyeda (@jana_obscura) August 10, 2012
And now the Fire Department is headed there as a fire response. More to come.
(Photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)
7:45 AM UPDATE: About half the units have been canceled, as they have determined it’s not a major fire after all, but what’s there is still causing a traffic jam-up at Seacrest in addition to having interrupted Water Taxi service.
7:50 AM UPDATE: And yes, if you’ve heard a helicopter, it’s related – at least one media chopper was checking out the situation. Per scanner, we’re hearing that they have not found flames – just some “burned wires” so far. Updated a few minutes later – apparent “burned-out alternator.” A city fireboat is at Seacrest too – just added photo from WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli.
8:05 AM UPDATE: Harbor Avenue remains blocked around Seacrest. Thanks to Toni for this overview:
No indication of injuries at this point. Update regarding service, from Christopher:
Rachel Marie captain Tara Rochester tells me that they had just departed Seacrest for downtown when the Rachel Marie started to fill with smoke. They returned to the dock. Everyone got off OK. One of the engines was on fire. Rochester says no replacement vessel available now but they’ll probably have something worked out for the afternoon.
8:20 AM UPDATE: April, who’s on board the 37 after having been evacuated from the Water Taxi when it returned, says she and others then had to wait to get through on Harbor. In comments, Paul says the road has just reopened, and WSB’s Patrick Sand at the scene has just confirmed that.
8:27 AM UPDATE: SFD spokesperson Kyle Moore has briefed the media at the scene. He says captain Rochester did all the right things in getting Rachel Marie back to the dock so everyone could get out safely. The fire was confined to the engine room. TRAFFIC UPDATE – Patrick reports that while traffic is being allowed to use Harbor going TOWARD the bridge, the westbound direction toward Seacrest is still blocked at Fairmount.
9:03 AM UPDATE: Harbor Avenue has reopened, according to police. Here’s our video of the briefing by SFD’s Moore:
Water Taxi management says via a text alert, “Plans for repairs and resuming service are under way.”
(Photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)
10:38 AM UPDATE: Forwarded by County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the board that oversees the King County Ferry District, including Water Taxi matters, an update from Paul Brodeur, county Marine Division director:
This morning’s incident on the RM was a failed alternation on the port generator.
This is a small (one gallon milk jug size) 12 volt electrical unit that charges the batteries which start the prime mover. Just to put it in perspective, your car has one of these alternators which also charges your cars battery. This failure caused smoke -NO FIRE – When the captain was notified of the smoke, she took appropriate action and the trained crew responded by securing fuel and air to the engineroom.She secured the vessel at the dock and the crew debarked the passengers with no injuries. The Us Coast Guard and the Seattle fire department responded and Seattle fire provided assistance.
The USCG is currently aboard and taking crew statements. We are awaiting their investigation and permission to move the vessel back to pier 50 at which time service can resume using the Melissa Ann.
11:14 AM UPDATE: The Rachel Marie has headed downtown (per MarineTraffic.com and a sighting from Sunny near the pier). We’ll update when we see/hear Melissa Ann taking its place. (A few minutes later) From Councilmember McDermott: “We are notifying passengers that we will resume West Seattle service with the 11:30 a.m. Pier 50 sailing. Our current plan is to repair the Rachel Marie this afternoon in time for the afternoon/evening sailings.”
4:10 PM UPDATE: Jeff Switzer with King County DOT confirms that Rachel Marie has been fixed and cleared to return to service, and should be leaving downtown around 4:15 pm.
Thanks to commenter “Admiral-California” for the reminder – the West Seattle Water Taxi schedule is extended for tonight’s Sounders game. It’s scheduled to leave Pier 50 downtown at 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30 pm. (Even if you’re not going to the game, boat rides are another good way to cool off, including Washington State Ferries from Fauntleroy.)
The King County Marine Division, parent agency to both the West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxis, has just announced a leadership change. Official county announcement ahead: Click to read the rest of King County Marine Division announces leadership change…
ORIGINAL 8:50 AM REPORT: The West Seattle Water Taxi‘s 8:15 run was canceled because of mechanical trouble for Rachel Marie, and the boat usually on the Vashon run, Melissa Ann, is picking up with the run scheduled to leave right about now. More to come when we find out about plans for the rest of the day.
12:56 PM UPDATE: The county just sent word that Rachel Marie is fixed and back in service on the West Seattle run.
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