West Seattle, Washington
By Karen Berge
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The King County Water Taxi‘s West Seattle service was the heart of the agenda as an engaged group of 20-25 people gathered Thursday evening at Alki UCC for the Alki Community Council‘s monthly meeting.
The main speaker was Scott Davis, director of the Marine Division of the King County Department of Transportation was the main guest speaker. Michael Heavey attended on behalf of County Councilmember Jan Drago, who chairs the King County Ferry District Board.
Davis began with some personal background. (That, plus Q/A, and more ACC notes, after the jump)Read More
Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Just under 30 people turned out tonight for the King County Water Taxi Town Hall at Alki Community Center, hosted by County Councilmember Jan Drago, who also chairs the King County Ferry District board.
Joining Drago were Hank Myers, who became KCFD Executive Director in March, and Scott Davis, director of the Marine Division of the King County Department of Transportation. The trio answered questions from attendees, provided updates on the state of the service and its two routes, and gathered information via a survey handout and a “Where Do You Live?” posterboard. Also in attendance was Chris Arkills, transportation adviser to County Executive Dow Constantine, a longtime Water Taxi champion.
The West Seattle-to-downtown run of the 2010 Water Taxi season has been underway for just over two months since its April 5 kickoff. Although the county leaders touted the overall success of the program (which features an upgraded West Seattle dock, relocated downtown dock, new vessel, and new fare structure), Davis reported that overall West Seattle-to-downtown ridership is down about 40% from the same period in 2009 (which was way up from 2008). Vashon-to-downtown ridership, he added, is strong.Read More
Late yesterday we published a news release from the King County Executive‘s office, which provided first word of a reported $7,500 theft from KC Water Taxi – which refers to both the Vashon and West Seattle foot ferries – fare boxes. The announcement came too late to get more information from the KC Sheriff’s Office, which is handling the case, but Sgt. John Urquhart has just provided more details: The suspect is described as a 30-year-old Tacoma man who was arrested this past Saturday night, booked into jail, and released the next day. Urquhart’s update also includes more details of exactly how the theft is believed to have happened:
Detectives began their investigation on May 27th, after the Marine Division of the King County Dept. of Transportation believed money was disappearing from a safe at Pier 50. Fares from passengers riding the ferry are deposited in small “vaults”, and then stored in a larger safe before the vaults are picked up by an armored car service.
Believing the thefts to be an “inside job”, detectives eventually determined a particular employee might be involved. After further investigation, a search warrant was obtained for his Tacoma residence and seven of the stolen vaults were found. The suspect took the vaults over a period of time and would break them open using a hammer. … The Marine Division believes 26 vaults in total were taken, worth about $330 each, and approximately $7500 in cash.
Charges are not yet filed but are expected; KCSO says the suspect had worked for the county since April.
This news comes not from a law-enforcement agency, but from King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office: Someone has been arrested for stealing King County Water Taxi fare cash from a “locked safe” in the County Marine Division’s office; the theft was discovered last week. (King County Water Taxi refers to the Seattle-Vashon passenger-ferry run as well as West Seattle-Downtown Seattle.) We’ll be seeking more information, but for starters, here’s the full news release:Read More
That’s the view from top-deck aft on the way back to West Seattle aboard the Rachel Marie less than an hour ago (8-minute crossing!). Though it’s been running almost two months now, this was our first chance to ride the King County Water Taxi this season (we’d toured the boat at a Ballard shipyard while renovations were under way). Whether you’ve tried the new vessel/new dock or not, you probably have some thoughts about the service – and as we noticed in a flyer posted on board, a Town Hall is coming up in West Seattle to give you a chance to talk about it with King County Councilmember and Ferry District Board Chair Jan Drago. It’s set for 7 pm June 9 at Alki Community Center; here’s the official flyer, from the KCFD website.
We’re at Seacrest, where the King County Water Taxi’s West Seattle celebration already has begun, even though it technically wasn’t set to start till noon. King County Councilmember Jan Drago arrived on the Water Taxi about 10 minutes ago with the King County Ferry District’s new executive director Hank Myers; a program with speeches and performances is set to begin in about half an hour; and free rides and snacks are already being enjoyed (big crowd waiting to get on the run that leaves in a few minutes).
White chocolate mousse cake free while it lasts, along with coffee, and performances coming up including rope-jumpers and singers from Lafayette Elementary! ADDED 12:33 PM: King County Executive Dow Constantine, longtime Water Taxi champion, is on hand too – seen here in our cameraphone pic with his team’s transportation expert Chris Arkills:
ADDED 10 PM: Here’s the exuberant start to Constantine’s speech at the event:
Since the end of the last Water Taxi season, the county-run foot ferries briefly came under political attack, when supporters of Constantine’s opponent in the KC Executive race decried the service as “ferries going nowhere.” Then budget challenges raised some questions about its future, but county leaders ultimately decided to keep the West Seattle and Vashon services running, while deferring consideration of other potential routes. What remains in question now is whether the money will be found to make it the year-round service that it could be now that its West Seattle dock has been upgraded, with the $3 million project completed in the offseason; that has yet to be worked out, but we’ll be following the process. Meantime, you can find Water Taxi info including schedule and fares by going here.
7:23 AM: Just back from Seacrest, where the King County Water Taxi‘s first West Seattle-to-downtown run of 2010 left right on time about half an hour ago. We’ll add video of the sailaway shortly; above, our iPhone photo of the first two passengers at the portable-farebox stop (or, if you’re using ORCA, the portable reader). Lots of info in our preview from last night. ADDED 7:52 AM: Here’s the sailaway, which took 2 minutes as the Rachel Marie backed away and pivoted to point toward downtown.
Fairly quiet, you might notice – when we were at a Ballard shipyard for our sneak peek at the RM as it underwent renovations, we were told that would be one noticeable difference. Right before boarding began, by the way, we caught inaugural captain Neil and crew member Ben on camera:
As for whether the Water Taxi really will run year-round from here on out – we checked last week with King County Executive (and longtime Water Taxi advocate) Dow Constantine‘s transportation specialist Chris Arkills, who says the funding question has yet to be worked out, but that Constantine “remains committed to it.” P.S. Remember that the season-opening party for the Water Taxi (which returns as a WSB sponsor as of later today) is this Sunday, noon-2 pm at Seacrest, with free rides all day.
Quick reminder – the King County Water Taxi‘s West Seattle-to-downtown run resumes service tomorrow morning. The official celebration isn’t till next Sunday, but the service is back in business starting with the 6:50 am departure from Seacrest tomorrow, and several things are different this year. We’ve reported on them all over the past few months; you can review the WSB King County Water Taxi archive (newest to oldest) here, plus, here are direct links to info on the county’s site:
—The boat schedule
—The new boat
—The “new” docks (upgrade on West Seattle side, location change on downtown side)
—The new fares
—Added shuttle service to Morgan Junction (midday weekdays only)
When we reported yesterday that the Route 773 shuttle for West Seattle’s King County Water Taxi run would include weekday-midday Morgan Junction service, the schedule wasn’t online. Now it is – with service 9:45 am-1:34 pm weekdays – see the schedule here.
Some years back, the King County (then Elliott Bay) Water Taxi shuttle bus ran all the way south to Morgan Junction, in addition to the current route between Alki and The (Alaska) Junction. This year, according to word we just received from Susan Whitmore with the King County Department of Transportation, the shuttle will run to Morgan Junction part of the time again. Specifically, she says, it will include Morgan Junction in the midday time period on weekdays – a time when ridership otherwise is low. And it’s not so much about getting to the Water Taxi itself, Whitmore explains, it’s about getting people around the area: “We were able to extend service without increasing our current budget or impacting the shuttle schedule. This extension allows us to provide midday transit service to residents around Morgan Junction. Ridership on the route extension will be evaluated during the summer.” Exact details on the schedule aren’t out yet, but the route it will follow is shown on this map (partly shown at right). As previously noted, the Water Taxi starts its season next Monday, April 5, with a new West Seattle dock, different downtown dock, new vessel, and new fare structure – note that there have been changes in the passes that will be accepted, too. The season-opening celebration is planned for the following Sunday, April 11, with free rides all day. ADDED THURSDAY: Here’s the Route 773 schedule.
From the King County Ferry District, which runs the Water Taxi (whose West Seattle-to-downtown run resumes a week from today, April 5, with a celebration on April 11) – a new KCFD executive director has been chosen. Read on for the official announcement:Read More
7:06 PM: Also at the Seattle Parks Board meeting downtown: This hasn’t been announced by the county yet, but Superintendent Tim Gallagher has just told the board that a celebration at/for the King County Water Taxi’s new dock at Seacrest is set for Sunday, April 11, noon-2 pm – that’s the first Sunday after the Water Taxi season starts on April 5. 9:49 PM UPDATE: This is now on the Water Taxi/King County Ferry District website too. Free rides!
Another double-eagle sighting! This time, in Arbor Heights. Thanks to John for the photo from 104th/California. Then from SW Dawson … Nick sends a photo so full of cherry blossoms, they take up the whole frame:
And while we were out enjoying the sun, we stopped by Seacrest for more of a look at the newly complete King County Water Taxi dock, after getting Alki Kayak Tours‘ photo of the “finger piers” yesterday. Here’s a look down the ramp to the dock:
Then a view of the full dock:
And the gangway that’ll take you to the boat, which will pull up perpendicular to the dock (and can be boarded from either side) rather than nosing in alongside, as in years past:
Less than a month now till opening day, Monday 4/5.
Greg Whittaker from Alki Kayak Tours shares what he says is the first photo of a kayak in the new “finger piers” that are part of the King County Water Taxi dock upgrade at Seacrest – work we’ve been tracking here. And with the work done, he says Alki Kayak Tours is ready to reopen. From his announcement:
Alki Kayak Tours, one of the 2009 recipients of the City of Seattle Mayor’s Small Business Award, will be reopening for the season this weekend at its location at Seacrest Marina in West Seattle.
… Alki Kayak Tours has prepped its sea kayak fleet and will be offering guided sea kayak tours of Elliott Bay, exploring the natural history and human history of Puget Sound. Migratory waterfowl are prevalent this time of year along with sightings of marine mammals including the California sea lion, harbor seal, and occasional grey whale and porpoise!
Alki Kayak Tours also offers “other outdoor adventure gear,” plus inline skates, beach cruiser bikes, longboards and Stand Up Paddleboards. As for the Water Taxi – it’s still on track to start the season exactly one month from today, Monday, April 5. (Did you see our stories with a sneak peek inside the new boat and the first look at it with the official paint job?)
We’ve been tracking work on the new King County Water Taxi dock at Seacrest – next step, the gangway. Its components arrived at the end of the week, after the concrete dock was towed in (see our previous story/photos here) and secured. And you may soon see the new vessel on the West Seattle-downtown run, the Rachel Marie, because King County Transportation Marine Division communications manager Susan Whitmore says it’s being brought into Puget Sound this week, after leaving the Ballard shipyard where it’s been getting ready for its new role (see our “sneak peek inside tour” story here). Whitmore says the crew – county employees, now that the service is no longer operated by Argosy – starts work two weeks from tomorrow and will be training until the new season begins on April 5. 6:48 PM UPDATE: Seems the Rachel Marie didn’t wait till next week – we’re told it was seen out and about today, and Zack sent this photo of the RM docked at Pier 50 this evening, now sporting the KCWT branding, next to its counterpart Melissa Ann, which makes the Vashon-downtown run:
9:31 PM UPDATE: The explanation comes in comment and on our Facebook (WS Blog) page – the Rachel Marie will fill in on the Vashon-downtown run because of mechanical trouble that took the Melissa Ann out of service.
With a little over five weeks to go till the new season starts for the King County Water Taxi‘s West Seattle-Downtown Seattle run, construction of its new dock at Seacrest has entered the second phase. After the new pilings were finished earlier this month, the site was quiet for a while, but now the concrete dock itself is going in – the photo above is from about an hour ago. The first day of the new season is scheduled for Monday, April 5th; last Friday, we brought you a close-up sneak peek on board the boat King County has leased for the run, the Rachel Marie (see our story =here). It’s currently at a Ballard shipyard getting freshened up, with the county branding outside, and new seats (among other things) inside – this shot from our Friday tour looks toward the bow on the main deck:
You’re likely to see West Seattle’s new Water Taxi out on training runs starting in a week or two. Meantime, here’s a little more background about the new dock; other changes for the new season include fares and the downtown dock location, which moves south to Pier 50 (which the other county run, Vashon-Downtown, already uses). ADDED THURSDAY NIGHT: Thanks to Brenda C for photos taken as the concrete dock floated in, earlier in the day:
When you step on board the 77-foot catamaran Rachel Marie – which will make the West Seattle-Downtown Seattle run of the King County Water Taxi when this year’s service starts April 5 (new date) – you may feel a little smarter. That’s because the boat used to carry rocket scientists. True! As explained by Robert Patronsky of Four Seasons Marine, which owns the RM and its sister ship Melissa Ann – the Water Taxi for the Vashon-Downtown Seattle run – this one made shuttle runs in the Western Pacific for many years, to a US military missile-testing site. A photo inside the vessel is testimony to this:
So are signs in English and the Marshall Islands’ language, Marshallese.
More recently, the RM was on a foot-ferry passenger project in Honolulu. But we digress. The reason we asked the King County Ferry District for a sneak peek on board the Rachel Marie, which is currently at a Ballard shipyard, is because many WSB’ers asked for more details when we first reported on the Rachel Marie (with photos) last month. Ask, and we’ll do our best to make sure you receive. “Is there an outside deck?” some asked. Here it is – room for about 40 people topside, stern – a one-minute tour of where you can sit/stand outside:
There’s an inside deck upstairs, too – keep in mind, this eventually is meant to run year-round – and then, the main deck:
While the Rachel Marie is capable of carrying more than 200, Susan Whitmore with King County says it will be certified for up to 150 – any more, and they have different crewing and security requirements. Right now, they’re finishing hiring the crew – they’ve got their captains, who will be in a wheelhouse you can watch through windows at the front of the top interior deck:
Some other notes: No concessions; the county might look at that later as a revenue measure, says Whitmore, but nothing’s planned when the season starts. You can bring your own food/drink, though, and there are some tables in the main-deck seating.
(A few power outlets, too, if you just can’t stay off your laptop during the trip across the bay.) And as you probably noticed in the video clip, interior bike racks – enough to hold 18 total, no extra charge. Though the Rachel Marie has the ability to run faster than its predecessors, they’re keeping the same schedule for now – while looking for the “sweet spot” between fuel efficiency and speed. The basic fare is higher if you’re paying cash, as reported previously; Whitmore says they’ll keep taking cash “for a while,” but the farebox will be at the dock, along with an ORCA transit-card reader, and they hope eventually to install credit-card-capable ticket machines at the docks (remember, on the downtown side, they’ll be switching to Pier 50, just south of Colman Dock). Again, the new Water Taxi season starts April 5; that’s a Monday, so Whitmore says they’re not planning the kind of festivities with which they kicked off the season in past years, but might have an open house at some point. Meantime, the new dock at Seacrest needs to be finished – and then this summer, county leaders have to figure out the funding that’s needed for the service to run year-round as hoped.
(Photo of MV Rachel Marie provided by KCFD – 2nd photo added 8:12 pm)
Kris Faucett from the King County Ferry District says its Board of Supervisors — King County Council members – approved a lease today for downtown-West Seattle service by the M.V. Rachel Marie, sister ship to the M.V. Melissa Ann, which is now on the King County Water Taxi’s other run between downtown and Vashon. (added 11:42 pm, from this document) Monthly cost: $32,000. (end of add) Also today, Faucett says the new fare schedule won approval today too, plus there’s word that West Seattle’s one-year Councilmember Jan Drago has been elected to chair the Ferry District Board. Read on for the Rachel Marie’s stats:Read More
Thanks to WSB’er “kmo39” – who has shared updates before on the progress of the King County Water Taxi dock project at Seacrest – for sharing that photo taken this morning: Now that the pilings for the new dock are in, concrete pouring is under way. The Water Taxi is scheduled to start running again in April, and if funding is finalized over the summer, its year-round operations could start this fall; the dock project is a prelude to that, since the previous wooden floating dock – shaky even in summertime – didn’t suit rough-weather operations. Also a reminder – the King County Ferry District board (King County Council members) is scheduled to take up the new proposed fare structure (including a 50-cent increase if you pay cash) on Monday (1:30 pm, County Courthouse), with a public hearing – here’s our story from last week.
If the King County Ferry District Board – aka King County Council – says yes, the KC Water Taxi‘s West Seattle run will charge 50 cents more for adult passengers who pay cash, starting this spring. A new fare schedule is up for a public hearing when the board meets January 25th – including Seattle-Vashon Water Taxi fares:
Reasons cited for the rate increase – which would be the first in three-plus years – include wanting to encourage transit-pass use. The meeting on January 25 is at 1:30 pm in County Council chambers at the County Courthouse downtown; you can read related documents by following links from this page on the Ferry District website. Next Water Taxi season is scheduled to start April 4; work is under way at Seacrest right now to improve its dock in hopes of year-round operation, which will require additional funding that the county’s hoping will be worked out this summer. P.S. We just asked spokesperson Kris Faucett if there’s been a decision on which boat the county will lease for the new season (since Argosy is no longer running the service) – she says there should be news about that “soon.”
Though we just updated the King County Water Taxi dock work at Seacrest Pier early this morning, it’s worth another note: The county announcement last week had said the fishing pier was expected to stay open, it was CLOSED when we were over at Seacrest a little while ago. The crane/barge work is so close that it’s easy to see why. So in case you were thinking of going fishing (or view-enjoying), take note, it may not be accessible if you go while this is happening. We’re checking with the county to see if there is any more predictable information to share on that. Fascinating work to watch, though, and thanks again to kmo39 for high-level views like the ones shared earlier today.
(added 3:33 pm) Update from Susan Whitmore at KCDOT:
I just got back from Seacrest Dock and want to update you on the status of the fixed fishing pier. It isn’t officially closed, but when the crane is working over the pier (off and on for the next few days) the construction supervisor is suggesting that folks don’t go out on the pier. They are making good progress and have already started hammering in the piles and have three in place already. The supervisor mentioned that they will also ask folks not to use the fixed pier for a day during the week of Jan 18th when the concrete pumping truck is on site pumping concrete.
(back to original 2:51 pm story) Meantime, some new construction photos from the Denny International Middle School construction/Chief Sealth High School renovation work:
Pauline Sugarman, Seattle Public Schools BEX Program Community Outreach Assistant, shares that photo of the topping-off ceremony celebrated at the Denny site just before Christmas, and this aerial of the entire project site:
(Scroll through the Denny-Sealth coverage archive to see previous aerials.) We asked if there’s an update on whether the new Denny is likely to be occupied midyear 2011-2012 or not till the start of the 2011-2012 school year; Sugarman says that the final decision hasn’t been made yet, but the latter may be more likely, as Denny work might not be done before March 2011. Chief Sealth, though, remains on track to reoccupy its permanent campus this fall, after two years in temporary quarters at the former Louisa Boren Junior High School on Delridge.
Thanks to WSB’er “kmo39” for that photo of work getting under way at Seacrest Pier for the King County Water Taxi‘s new dock, as the county said it would. A new floating dock and other improvements are going in with a look ahead to facilitating year-round service as soon as this fall, providing the extra money for it is nailed down by summer; this WSB story from last week shows how the new dock will be configured. The county explained a week ago how the project will proceed, including saying that the construction company will for starters “move barges and containment booms into the area between the fixed fishing pier and the shoreline. In the first stage of the project, the aging gangway, floating dock and pilings will be removed. By mid-January, installation of new pilings will begin, which requires using a large vibratory hammer to rattle the pilings into the ground.” The county hopes to have the work done by the end of February; the Water Taxi’s West Seattle-to-downtown run is scheduled to resume in early April.
In the comment section following yesterday’s update on impending King County Water Taxi dock construction at Seacrest, there was a request for a closer look at the plan, to find out more about how divers might be affected. We asked the King County Department of Transportation for an image of the latest rendering – all we had was our photo of what was up on an easel at a meeting early last year – and what you see above is what they sent today. (Click the image, or here, for a larger view – you may have to click “zoom” if your browser allows it, once the new image comes up.) Most of the components are being built off-site to minimize the amount of time people are affected at Seacrest, but piles will be driven and so neighbors are warned of noise and other construction-related inconveniences. The first day of this year’s Water Taxi season is scheduled to be April 4, but whether it continues year-round from that point on – as the new dock is meant to facilitate – depends on the results of a search for funding, since the county budget crisis last fall led to the King County Ferry District cutting back on the taxing authority it was using.
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