"State changes course, passenger ferry OK'd"

"Washington State Ferries has reversed itself and decided to provide a passenger-only ferry for the Clinton-Mukilteo route during an eight-week construction period next fall.The decision will allow islanders to catch a boat in Clinton or Mukilteo and walk off on the other side where they can catch a bus or other ride to make their appointments. In Clinton, the boat will use the Port of South Whidbey's dock adjacent to the ferry landing, and in Mukilteo it will use the dock at the fishing pier next to the ferry terminal.Next October and November the Mukilteo ferry dock will be closed for repairs part of each day, with work scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, except weekends, for eight or nine weeks. During those non-commuter hours the car ferries will operate between Clinton and Edmonds, approximately twice the distance between Clinton and Mukilteo.Susan Harris-Huether, ferry system spokesperson, said Thursday that the original preference was to bring in a third car ferry on the Clinton-Mukilteo run to help clear the traffic back-up in the afternoons. It just didn't work out, she said, describing the difficulty of using three ferries on a short run.Many island residents always preferred a passenger-only ferry during the daytime hours when the Mukilteo dock would be closed. But at first State Ferries refused. We had determined not to do it, Harris-Huether said. In recent months, the Port of South Whidbey has fielded ideas from private citizens on how to meet that demand. One proposal included hovercraft service, and another high-speed monohull boats.But now, State Ferries has decided to provide that service itself, but not with one of its own passenger-only boats. Harris-Huether said those are already busy. Instead, private boat companies will soon be asked to bid to provide the service. The cost to the public is already known, however. The charge will be the same as the present fee for walk-on passengers to take the state ferry.State Ferries will spend some money to upgrade the Mukilteo and Clinton piers to make them safe and accessible to passenger-only ferry patrons. Harris-Huether said the extent of those upgrades won't be known until they know what boat will be used. Every vessel is uniquely different, she said.At Wednesday night's Port of South Whidbey meeting, consultant Tom Roehl said he has already talked with State Ferries about using the port's facilities in Clinton. Commissioners Jan Smith, Gene Sears and Jim Hawley agreed it would benefit Whidbey Island residents, and finally provide a use for the port's dock that was built in 1982 with passenger-only ferry service in mind.This is what it was built for, Roehl said.Finally, added Smith, noting the time lag. Original plans by Mosquito Fleet to carry people from Clinton to Seattle or Everett never materialized.The port will also benefit from upgrades to its facilities. Roehl said State Ferries will modify and likely improve the float, ramp and steps, provide safety netting. and steam clean the facility."

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