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Hackles raised over Mukilteo terminal planning

Robin Adams of Langley looks over proposals for the future of the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal on Tuesday night, with the help of Washington State Ferries consultant Sandy Glover.  - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Robin Adams of Langley looks over proposals for the future of the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal on Tuesday night, with the help of Washington State Ferries consultant Sandy Glover.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

The planners wanted to talk about options, but the crowd wanted to talk about parking and crossing times.

About 80 people showed up at the first of several planned community meetings on the long-range fate of Mukilteo’s aging and overworked ferry terminal.

Planning for the future of the terminal resumed earlier this year after three years on the back burner for lack of funding.

Tuesday night’s meeting at South Whidbey High School in Langley was the first of three this week, with a similar meeting Wednesday night in Mukilteo and an online public discussion Thursday night.

More meetings are promised in the next two years as Washington State Ferries and its consultants move through the process of obtaining environmental permits, beginning construction and completing the project by 2019.

Ferry officials have come up with 10 possible concepts for improving the Clinton-Mukilteo route.

They range from doing nothing other than replacing pieces, to upgrading the existing terminal, moving it down the Mukilteo waterfront or relocating it to Everett or Edmonds, where the ferry ride would take 50 minutes.

“We have a new project and a new focus,” said Nicole McIntosh, WSF engineering design manager for terminals. “We’re here to hear from you.”

Built in 1952, the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal has had no significant improvements since the early 1980s. Its cramped layout makes it difficult for passengers to get in and out of the terminal, and contributes to traffic congestion, safety concerns and conflicts between vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

“We haven’t done a whole heck of a lot to improve it,” McIntosh said.

She also said that Mukilteo is one of two terminals in the ferry system that don’t comply with U.S. Department of Homeland Security specifications. The Edmonds terminal is the other.

The Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route is the second busiest for vehicle traffic in the system, behind the Seattle-Bainbridge Island run, ferry officials say. It handles 2 million vehicles and 4 million passengers per year.

Ridership of the Clinton-Mukilteo route is expected to increase 73 percent by 2030.

Added time

At Tuesday’s meeting, the suggestion that the other end of the route be moved to Everett or Edmonds didn’t go over well.

The current crossing time between Clinton and Mukilteo is 15 minutes. The crossing from Clinton to the Port of Everett, where the terminal would be located, would be 35 minutes, ferry officials say.

The crossing from Clinton to Edmonds would take 50 minutes.

Eugene Elfrank of Langley, who said he commutes six days per week to Bothell, vigorously protested any increase in the length of his trip.

“If it takes more than 15 minutes, I’ll have to move my family off the island,” he said, to applause.

“This county would whither up if the ferry goes to Everett or Edmonds,” someone else called out.

Even if the terminal remains at Mukilteo, the route will be diverted to Edmonds while repairs and improvements are made in Mukilteo, McIntosh said.

“It could be a long time,” she said.

20 more cars

Others said that an increase in crossing time would only lengthen the onshore wait during commuter hours, and that while new 144-car ferries are promised down the road to replace the 124-car ferries currently serving the route, that’s only an increase of 20 cars per boat.

McIntosh stressed that the Edmonds and Everett options are just that, and that ferry officials at this stage are trying to list as many options as possible.

“Right now, they’re just concepts,” she said. “We need to have an improvement project that’s fundable. We have to try to keep cost down.”

Parking continued to be an issue with islanders who have been at odds with the city of Mukilteo over the dwindling number of overnight parking spots for Whidbey commuters who keep cars on each end of the route.

Some suggested a parking garage built by the city for use by Whidbey residents and visitors would be a certain money-maker. Others said that parking should be studied on environmental grounds.

“You can’t exclude parking, because it has an environmental impact,” said Robin Adams of Langley.

Dave Hoogerwerf of Clinton, a member of the South End’s ferry advisory committee, agreed.

“You have to have parking as an option,” he said. “That’s a no-brainer.”

‘Unsustainable’

Helen Price Johnson, the county commissioner who represents South Whidbey, said the Clinton-Mukilteo route “is unsustainable, and will continue to get worse.”

She urged planners to consider the economic needs of island businesses that depend on the ferry to deliver goods and visitors.

Price Johnson also made a pitch for more parking in Mukilteo, and an improvement in other modes of transportation, including buses, so visitors can come without their cars.

She also pushed for an overhead pedestrian loading system, and urged ferry officials to strongly consider a second ferry slip on the Mukilteo side as soon as possible.

“It will never cost less than to do it right now,” Price Johnson said.

Current approved funding for the Mukilteo terminal project is $63 million, ferry officials said.

The timetable, sprinkled liberally with more public meetings, calls for public comments collected and an environmental impact statement obtained by 2012, a design completed by 2015 and construction completed by 2019.

The total cost has yet to be determined. Officials said that current funding likely wouldn’t cover the entire project, which may have to be completed in stages.

Options so far

Among the options being considered so far:

• Leaving the existing terminal as it is, except for repairs.

• Improving the existing site by upgrading the ferry slip, toll booths and passenger drop-off area, and improving bus and rail connections.

• Building a new pier, slip and terminal at the old World War II fuel-tank farm north of downtown Mukilteo and realigning First Street while improving bus and rail connections.

• Moving the terminal farther north, either to the site of the rail-barge pier owned by the Port of Everett, or to the south end of the port itself.

• Relocating to Edmonds, which would serve both Kingston and Clinton after either upgrading the current Edmonds terminal, or building a completely new terminal about a mile to the south.

All the options except the first would include at least one ferry slip, with an option for two; a new multi-bay transit area; a passenger pick-up and drop-off area; and holding lanes with reserved areas for bicycles, carpools and priority vehicles.

Hadley Rodero, a ferries system consultant and an organizer of the community meetings, said Friday that Wednesday’s session in Mukilteo drew more than 40 residents from Mukilteo and Whidbey Island.

She said Whidbey residents repeated concerns about parking and crossing times, while Mukilteo residents were concerned about views and other conditions downtown. She said most favored keeping the terminal in Mukilteo, although most would move it to one of two tank-farm locations outside downtown.

Rodero said the online discussion Thursday night drew about 25 participants.

“We got some great feedback,” she said. “That’s the purpose of the process.”

All public comment in this first phase of the project’s planning is due before Nov. 19. For information, or to send a comment, e-mail hrodero@prrbiz.com.

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