By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
What role might boats play in the West Seattle Bridge crisis?
That was the major theme as the West Seattle Transportation Coalition met by teleconference and phone last week, with guests speaking on behalf of the two waterborne transportation systems that already serve West Seattle.
You can watch the archived video of the meeting here; below, our report:
WASHINGTON STATE FERRIES: Government-relations director John Vezina and communicator Hadley Rodero were the guests. They addressed some points that have come up repeatedly in West Seattle Bridge-related discussion:
*Does/did traffic from ferries help clog the bridge? This slide addressed that:
A 2013 “origin/destination” study of the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route showed 60 percent of travelers were NOT going to downtown Seattle or points north – so were less likely to have been using the high bridge. (WSF does these studies every 7 years so they’re due for another one.)
*Could WSF reroute, or add service, to go downtown from Vashon/Southworth? These slides addressed that:
Pretty much, no, as explained by those two slides. Major reasons: The downtown dock and the fleet itself are both stressed in a big way already.
The WSF guests then moved on to other topics of West Seattle interest – like the Fauntleroy dock replacement that’s supposed to happen later this decade. The current dock, built in 1957, holds 80 cars. That would more than double if the new dock were built to what WSF says are current standards, big enough to hold a boat and a half worth of vehicles (this route is served by 124-car vessels), but they know the Fauntleroy community is opposed to that. (In response to a later question, he reiterated that a seismically safe, higher dock must be built. As for the timeline – if not for the COVID-19 changes, community outreach to start the discussion would be starting now.)
And they reminded WSTC that the ferry system is currently in “the new normal” because of COVID-19; the winter sailing schedule was extended (indefinitely, as announced days after the WSTC meeting), and they’re running fewer boats – two instead of three on Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth, for example, and lower usage means a looming budget crisis. “We’re not exactly sure what ridership is going to look like coming out of this.”
Speaking of future uncertainty, while WSF had been working on a long-range plan, “none of this is probably relevant any more.”
In Q&A, they were asked if passenger-ferry service from Fauntleroy is possible. WSF itself cannot provide it – years ago, the state Legislature ordered it to get out of the foot-ferry business. But if they can offer the dock for another service/agency’s use, they’ll work with whomever, as they plan to as Kitsap Transit expands its foot-ferry service.
With the West Seattle Bridge closed, is WSF encouraging Kitsap passengers to try alternatives such as driving south and using the Tacoma Narrows Bridge? Vezina’s reply boiled down to “no” – WSF is part of the state highway system and people are free to make their own decisions. But WSF has been taking steps to be sure they’re aware of the bridge closure, he added.
Then the discussion moved to the Water Taxi, with Chris Arkills from Metro/King County, a West Seattleite who is often at WSTC meetings. He said an “intergovernmental team” was formed “the day after the bridge closed,” and that half its members are West Seattleites. Though it’s continuing to run on an extremely limited schedule right now, the Water Taxi is prepared to ramp up quickly as demand grows, Arkills said. The first step would be to return to the regular 5-day-a-week winter schedule. “We think we can ramp up very quickly when we get the word to do that … we don’t have a date yet but once we get the clearance, we can implement it very quickly.”
Once that happens, the next step would be to go to the 7-day-a-week summer schedule, which would have taken effect in late March if not for the virus crisis.
Beyond that, to handle even more demand, Arkills said the county is having conversations with private companies that might be able to provide more boats, and looking at where dock space might be available. Downtown, for example, there’s the Argosy dock (which the Water Taxi used years ago) and Victoria Clipper dock.
Seacrest, where the WT docks on this side, would probably max out at three departures per hour, Arkills surmised. “Beyond that, we have to look at adding some dock capacity on the West Seattle side” – there’s nothing suitable right now. The county is talking with the Port of Seattle, among others, about those prospects. The Fauntleroy state-ferry dock would be more complicated than it sounds, he added – regulations, community involvement, other potential red tape.
What about a park-and-ride? Arkills said that’s part of the “viaduct playbook” under consideration, recapping steps taken during the viaduct-to-tunnel transition such as leasing port property for a park-and-ride lot.
He fielded a few Metro questions, too – will buses return to Admiral and Arbor Heights service, for example? Working on that. Special direct runs like West Seattle to UW? That sort of special service tends to be expensive and difficult to operate, Arkills said. How about, as often suggested, a connector service around the peninsula? Again, he said, they’re “looking at” many things, but constrained by looming budget woes. A shuttle to the SODO light-rail station? Taking the C Line or Route 120 downtown to board light rail there is more practical, he said – easier to get a seat from those stations. How about a “reverse park and ride” where you’d leave your car on the east side of the Duwamish? That’s been suggested too.
So for now, no revelations, just assurances that much is being pondered.
Also discussed at the WSTC meeting:
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE COMMUNITY TASK FORCE: WSTC board member Deb Barker said she’s excited to take on the role, as the group gets ready for its first meeting (now set for next Wednesday, June 10th). While the group’s full scope of responsibilities hadn’t yet been communicated, she expected it to have some decisions to make in relatively short order. She also said she had a goal, to see the bridge closure declared an emergency. (We inquired with the mayor’s office to see if she was considering that – but before they got a response back to us, the mayor was caught up in a new emergency.) There was also some discussion of who’s not represented, or is underrepresented, on the task force, such as transportation-alternative advocates. The city had said it was expecting to add a few more members of the group, but no additions have been announced yet.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets at 6:30 pm on fourth Thursdays, online TFN.