‘Everything’s on the table’: Washington State Ferries launches planning process for Fauntleroy dock replacement

(WSB file photo, Fauntleroy WSF terminal)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“We have to do something – we can’t just sit on our thumbs and hope it’ll be OK.”

That’s how Washington State Ferries director of terminal engineering Dave Sowers explains the need to replace the Fauntleroy dock, a project its neighbors have been long anticipating/dreading.

He was one of several WSF managers who took part in a midday community meeting today to “launch the planning process” for what will likely be the largest West Seattle transportation project between the city’s bridge repair/reopening and Sound Transit‘s light rail. The meeting, which was one-third presentation and two-thirds Q&A, was the first of two online kickoff meetings, with the second planned for 6 pm tomorrow (Thursday, March 18th). Here’s the slide deck with toplines:

Though the terminal is part of West Seattle’s Fauntleroy neighborhood, it’s not seen as a solely West Seattle project, the WSF reps made it clear.

The community-engagement process will put equal weight on input from the other two communities on what WSF calls the Triangle Route – Vashon and Southworth, they said.

More on the process later. First – the need. WSF’s Alec Williamson recapped the three main challenges that the dock replacement must address – the aging dock’s structural/seismic deficiencies, its low elevation leaving it vulnerable to rising sea level/storms, and its capacity shortcoming – holding 80 vehicles while serving 124-vehicle ferries, with the holding zone spilling onto the shoulder of a relatively narrow city road.

The big question: What is under consideration that could remedy all that? “Everything’s on the table,” insisted Sowers. Separated pedestrian/bicycle loading – not available now – “is definitely under consideration.” Could the dock be lengthened/widened? “Certainly something we’ll look at,” he said, while warning that expanding the dock’s “over-water coverage” would likely not be received well by some parties with a say in this, including the federal government and tribes. Could some or all runs be rerouted directly downtown? Sowers noted that while Colman Dock is being overhauled, it’s not being expanded, so capacity could be an issue there, but he reiterated that this too is open for discussion.

Since there was no proposal to present, much of the presentation focused on explaining the process. Construction is not expected to start any sooner than 2025, so what happens between now and then? Williamson explained that a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study over the next two years is the first step, to organize issues and concerns leading to alternatives. (It’s a new process, Williamson noted.) That will be followed by a process called NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). The schedule/timeline for construction won’t be clear until they get to that stage of the process, he said.

The community-engagement part of the process was detailed by WSF’s Hadley Rodero. Three advisory groups will be created and convened – Executive Leadership with members including elected officials and tribal representatives, Technical Advisory with members including technical staffers from local governments, and a Community Advisory Group with members from communities on the Triangle Route.

Also surfacing during today’s Q&A: How long would the new dock be expected to last? WSF’s Charlie Torres said it’s a key feature of the system’s 2040 long-range plan, but would undoubtedly last much longer, given that the current trestle dates back to the ’50s and has endured this far (though it’s, as Williamson described it, an “antiquated facility”).

How well does WSF believe the 2019 route schedule changes have worked? John Vezina, the WSF manager who oversaw that process, acknowledged that concerns surface from time to time but overall they don’t hear many complaints.

Is there another dock/project from which WSF can apply lessons learned? Sowers indicated that each one is unique, and reiterated that a special challenge here is the city street (Fauntleroy Way SW) feeding into/out of the dock – something they don’t have a lot of control over.

WHAT’S NEXT? The application process for the advisory groups will be open soon. You can send questions/comments/ideas at any time to the project’s official emailbox – FauntleroyTermProj@wsdot.wa.gov – and you can watch for updates at the project website. And if you can make it, the second kickoff meeting, with the same presentation as the first one, is at 6 pm tomorrow – go here to register for the viewing/participation link. (WSF said ~70 people showed up to watch today’s meeting; there’s room for many more.)

47 Replies to "'Everything's on the table': Washington State Ferries launches planning process for Fauntleroy dock replacement"

  • Wendell March 17, 2021 (5:45 pm)

    Leading off with a mixed metaphor.

  • 1994 March 17, 2021 (8:00 pm)

    Relocate the dock to Des Moines or east of West Seattle.

    • reed March 18, 2021 (6:19 am)

      “Not in my backyard.”I personally like having an in-neighborhood backdoor to the Olympic peninsula that eliminates the need to go downtown for a ferry.

    • HappyOnAlki March 18, 2021 (3:07 pm)

      “East of West Seattle” — like in the Duwamish?

  • D March 18, 2021 (1:08 am)

    I don’t see the need for having a vehicle ferry going into west seattle- rather than downtown. It’d maybe more practical if we had a walk-on-ferry going from here to downtown though.

    • HappyOnAlki March 18, 2021 (3:04 pm)

      We already have a walk-on-ferry going from here to downtown — the Water Taxi.

  • Liam March 18, 2021 (5:20 am)

    I think west Seattle is about the worst place for that dock. The rout should be to downtown with vehicles and that dock where time does not matter should be blown up. Or you know clog up west Seattle because they don’t have huge docks and loading areas like ohh I don’t know downtown…. 

    • John March 18, 2021 (11:16 am)

      Each Washington State Ferry on the triangle route can hold over 100 cars if not a little over 200 cars. A full load of cars is about the length of the dock to the gas station. Biggest issue is boats running behind schedule and incompetent workers not loading the boats quickly enough. I have talked to older employees on both sides of the water about this as well as bridge crew. They all say it’s impossible to fire people for incompetence and a lot of people who are new and receiving disciplinary action end up being sent to the triangle route

      • WSB March 18, 2021 (11:31 am)

        124 cars, as noted in the story.

        • John March 18, 2021 (11:44 am)

          Don’t they sometimes put bigger ferrys on this route that can hold a higher capacity?

          • WSB March 18, 2021 (12:31 pm)

            124 cars (Issaquah class) is as big as they get for this run.

            The standard vessel assignments on the Triangle Route used to include even smaller boats – the Evergreen State and Steel Electric classes were part of the mix – all now retired (except for one of the former).

      • Ryan March 19, 2021 (9:22 am)

        I’m not sure about the whole “incompetence” comment regarding employees. The most typical delays are due to dead vehicles unable to get off the boats because dead batteries/mechanical failures/lost keys, followed by emergency trips/route changes/waiting for ambulances. On a triangle route with such a clockwork schedule it only takes one interruption to cause a domino effect and throw off schedules for the day. That’s not the employees’ faults. 

      • Andy March 19, 2021 (10:57 am)

        Late boats…..stuff happens. Incompetent employees…..they’re everywhere. But what isn’t helping John is your attitude. That is the other problem with the route. Toughest route in the whole system on BOTH dock and deck. It is not always easy to load multiple destinations at such a fast pace. For the majority of passengers that understand this and that we try our best and may not always be perfect we appreciate you all. John….I hope you have enjoyed sailing with Washington State Ferries. And thank you for your patronage. 

      • Karl March 19, 2021 (4:13 pm)

        I work at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal and the actual number of vehicles from the tollbooths to the 76 gas station is 153.  When we’re running three 124-vehicle ferries, it’s about a 45-minute wait if you start at the back of the line on Fauntleroy Way. 

  • Marcus March 18, 2021 (6:30 am)

    would certainly miss the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock if it were to be relocated however the idea should be investigated.

    • John March 18, 2021 (11:14 am)

      I don’t know where they could possibly relocate it most of the shoreline is either houses or couldn’t accommodate waiting lines

  • Rick March 18, 2021 (8:20 am)

    Quick. Let’s find/create a problem so we can fix it.

    • Guy March 18, 2021 (11:49 am)


  • E March 18, 2021 (8:52 am)

    I second the idea of a water taxi to downtown from fauntleroy. My understanding is that idea is not really on the table, maybe due to costs of enlarging the downtown docks? Or maybe because the hope is the light rail will alleviate the need for non-road transit between ws and downtown? One can dream!

    • Fauntleroy Fairy March 18, 2021 (12:19 pm)

      We already have a passenger only water taxi from WS to downtown. Did it occur to you that not everyone leaving WS is just a passenger or is just going downtown? Not to mention the route from downtown would take much longer to Southworth or the island and I’m guessing that the dock has been here longer than most residents who might be in favor of moving it. Fix it if we must, but leave it where it is.

    • RossB March 25, 2021 (8:02 am)

      Ferries are very expensive to operate — a lot more expensive than running a bus. An express bus from Fauntleroy would be much faster than a ferry.

  • dhg March 18, 2021 (10:16 am)

    Nicely summarized.  I am a little alarmed by the attitude of the WSF Managers who seem to focus strictly on demand. If you are simply looking at meeting the demand of the ever growing commuting population of Vashon and Southworth, then our neighborhood gets overwhelmed. I think many of us would prefer to keep this system’s capacity as it stands now.        

    • Ferry March 19, 2021 (12:23 pm)

      Define “many of us.” I think you mean the small number of people who bought homes near the ferry station. The problem is that there are tons more people who benefit from the Fauntleroy ferry station. So it’s a matter of the greater good. It’s the same thing for people who bought homes near I-5. I’m sure they would prefer less traffic on I-5, but populations have increased since the beginning of time, and that means more traffic for those who choose to live near major transit infrastructure. If you want something more quiet, don’t buy a home near a major ferry station, near a major park (Lincoln Park), and on a major arterial that leads straight to the West Seattle Bridge. 

  • Rick March 18, 2021 (10:34 am)

    I bought a cheap house near the airport and learned how to profit from the “noise”.  Same strategy. I grew up above the dock and as an adult lived in the same neighborhood. Also commuted for over 15 years on that same ferry route. New kids with $$$ gotta bi*ch.   Kinda like “safe streets”. Make my place a newly recognized gated community. Of course, it’ll be on your dollar.

  • Jon Wright March 18, 2021 (11:08 am)

    If you want a boat ride from Fauntleroy to downtown, walk on the ferry to Vashon and transfer to the water taxi to Seattle. If you just want to get downtown the fastest, most efficient way, take the RapidRide C. A water taxi or ferry from Fauntleroy downtown is a terrible idea any way you evaluate it.

  • Jim March 18, 2021 (11:12 am)

    End the triangle ferry route and the vehicle ferry dock at Fauntleroy.  Run foot ferries to Seattle from all three ferry terminals based on ridership and ferry vehicles between South worth and Vashon. Problem solved and mass transit encouraged.

    • Ivan Weiss March 19, 2021 (8:28 am)

      @ Jim: “Problem solved?” Hardly. Nice try. But sorry. By law, the ferries are part of the state highway system. Highways mean cars, trucks, buses, van pools, RVs, and motorcycles. Mass transit can’t possibly go to all the places ferry users go to. Last time I checked, mass transit didn’t carry freight, either.

      • Rick March 20, 2021 (10:14 am)

        Ivan, for once I agree with you. 

  • Ivan Weiss March 18, 2021 (11:42 am)

    The people who advocate closure of the Fauntleroy Terminal, and the routing of Vashon/Southworth vehicle traffic downtown, are either new here, or they never heard of Boeing. Not to mention that they have been told, ad nauseam and ad infinitum, time after time, that Colman Dock doesn’t have the capacity to handle that additional traffic. Instead it seems easier to stick their fingers in their ears and cry out: “La la la, I don’t hear you!”

    Give it up, the lot of you. That dock was here before any of you were (1927) and it isn’t going away, ever. Better that WSF widens it, to accommodate another 100-200 vehicles, so that the lineups along Fauntleroy, which are a serious safety problem, can at least be lessened.

    I have been using that ferry terminal for 45 years now, and have tried my best to be a responsible user. I sympathize totally with the Fauntleroy Way residents who have to put up with those lines, with the pollution caused by unnecessary idling, with their driveways being blocked, with access to Lincoln Park diminished, with all of it. I have seen parked cars sideswiped, I have seen more than one T-Bone collision caused by limited visibility (and idiots who won’t slow down), and I reiterate: Widening the dock will do more to alleviate these issues than any other measure. 

    • Mardi March 19, 2021 (9:49 am)

      Ivan, dual destination sailings safely load 124 cars from this current size dock on time. Electronic tolling or pre-ticketing solutions will only improve that. FVS Terminal operates at above system wide average for on time sailings, 91.6%. FVS is Only terminal in system to improve in interval 2016-2019, mainly due to schedule changes and dock personnel expertise. Operational changes can be a win win, favor this over paving over water and parks. 

      • Ivan Weiss March 19, 2021 (11:23 am)

        Adding two lanes to the holding area on the dock is hardly “paving over  water and parks.” It has nothing to do with loading efficiency, and it certainly has nothing to do with electronic tolling or preticketing, neither of which are either necessary or desirable.  It has everything to do with making Fauntleroy Way more safe, which we do by removing as many cars from lining up on the street as we can. 

        • Mardi March 19, 2021 (2:15 pm)

          Ivan, 5 more ferry holding lanes would need to be added to meet their 1.5x vehicle capacity criteria, a metric which is as old as this dock. That is a huge over water coverage for one of the longest docks in the system. Fauntleroy Way safety statistics improved significantly since Vision Zero 25mph speed limits and conversion from 4 lanes to 2, despite no change in the queues. Queues will form on Fauntleroy even with a huge holding dock at time when vessels are down. Cove Park serves more than the few folks living near the dock, and would be overtaken by the large expansion. Win win solutions can be found. 

          • Ivan Weiss March 20, 2021 (10:27 am)

            Vision Zero is a farce, and 25-MPH speed limits are a farce. There is no enforcement of either. Your claim of greater safety is utterly illusory, as is your claim that they would have to add five lanes to the dock holding area. Who says five lanes? Whose interest do you represent anyway? Two lanes would make a huge dent in the lineups, and would ease the concerns of many (admittedly not all) Fauntleroy Way residents far more than doing nothing would.

      • Ferry March 19, 2021 (12:14 pm)

        Mardi, that’s a false dichotomy. What’s best is a combination of operational changes AND an upgraded, larger dock. It’s not either-or.

        • Mardi March 19, 2021 (2:16 pm)

          Agree. See above reply to Ivan 

    • Frank Logan March 19, 2021 (10:05 am)

      Add a second “slip” to allow two boats to load/ unload, mitigating boats waiting for for the only slip.

    • 1994 March 19, 2021 (11:59 pm)

      Change happens. 

  • John March 18, 2021 (11:45 am)

    Use the money from the failing sound transit to support the Washington State ferries

  • Keith Weir March 18, 2021 (2:22 pm)

    It will be a great day when we can count on the Triangle route to be run with all electric vessels !!!

  • Alecia March 19, 2021 (8:55 am)

    Why not run more boats more often and send the “3rd” boat into Coleman dock to lighten the pressure on west Seattle. I know there is the walk on only but it has very limited runs. Not everyone works within that time frame

    • Ferries March 19, 2021 (12:11 pm)

      Instead of running the 3rd boat to Coleman, it  would make more sense to increase run frequency on the existing walk-on boats. And the traffic “pressure” of the Fauntleroy Ferry dock on West Seattle is minimal–that’s been studied and there are data that back that up.   

  • Nimby March 19, 2021 (9:44 am)

    Only two logical conclusions can be drawn: 1) Re-routing through Coleman dock. 2) Usurping the North end of Lincoln Park from the city. The park can then be extended South (I’m sure no one would object). The current dock at Fauntleroy is unsustainable for the mid and long term.

    • Ferries March 19, 2021 (12:07 pm)

      You’re correct, the current dock is unsustainable and that’s why they are rebuilding it. But can you explain your logic on your first part? Re-routing through Coleman is a no-go because of limited capacity, and there are already passenger-only ferries from Vashon and Southworth for people who want to go downtown.  And I don’t understand what moving the ferry to Lincoln Park achieves.  

      • Sam March 20, 2021 (10:51 pm)

        It removes it from being “of concern” to the Fauntleroy neighborhood, of course!They’re both terrible ideas. Expanding the dock is the most viable solution, but everyone in the uber expensive houses around the dock are howling mad at the mere suggestion.

  • Gary English March 20, 2021 (5:16 am)

    Cannot reroute to Colman as there will not be enough slips, ever.   Choice  A.  Add second slip at Fauntleroy then rebuild old slip.  AND increase net capacity on dock to meet max boat capacity.   Initiate Auto Ticketing including passengers, and All passenger loading AFTER cars, combined these minimizes load times.  All Boats stop at all triangle docks for every run results in best economy, less wait times.  Combining these REDUCES long ferry lines in West Seattle (makes neighbors happy). B, Keep Fauntleroy at one slip and add NEW Burien ferry at SeaHurst Park via 12th Ave and 148th to Freeway, C. REPLACE on time performance metric with maximum vehicle movement metric. Having boats leaving partially full drastically increases wait times and back ups into W Seattle. D. planned additional slip at Southworth is not worthwhile UNLESS there will be direct car ferries to Colman, which is very doubtful as no new slips will be added at Colman.  (Reallocate money from SWorth second slip to Fauntleroy for second slip.)

    • Ferry March 20, 2021 (12:17 pm)

      A. Building second slip before tearing down first slip makes great sense, if feasible. But “all boats stop at all docks” was proposed by Vashon a few years ago, and that doesn’t fly because it essentially means Vashon gets direct boats to everywhere (10 minutes), while all boats between Fauntleroy and Southworth become indirect (40 minutes instead of 20 minute direct boat). B. Two ferry stations instead of one bigger station is incredibly inefficient in terms of construction and also doubles the number of needed terminal workers. C. If you’re suggesting that ferries only leave when full, that’s a bad idea because riders need to know when the ferry will leave.

      • Jon Wright March 21, 2021 (9:51 pm)

        The dilemma between on time or full boat is caused because only 80 cars can be staged on the pier. This wasn’t so much of a problem with the older 90-car boats. But the 124-car Issaquah class boats serving the triangle route have brought this issue to a head. Once those 80 staged cars are loaded on the boat, 40 more cars have to get through the tollbooths to fill up a boat. Which makes more sense? To have a $150 million boat and crew sitting at the dock waiting for those 40 cars to be processed? Or to shove off when it’s reasonably full? My thought is that WSF ought to buy the 76 station north of the park, turn that into the tollboth, and then any cars queued south of there would be paid. Ferry workers at the pier could scan tickets as cars drove up and you might be able to get those additional 40 cars on the boat relatively quickly. And all the suggestions about rerouting service downtown or moving the terminal are pointless. The terminal isn’t going anywhere, just look at a map.

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