Ferry future draws questions

Fed up with long ferry lines in Mukilteo, about 50 South Whidbey residents attended a meeting Wednesday to learn about planned upgrades to the Mukilteo ferry terminal.

At Clinton Progressive Hall, attendees mingled with state ferry and Department of Transportation officials for about two hours to talk about a planned Mukilteo multimodal ferry terminal.

Scheduled for completion in 2010, the terminal will feature a new ferry dock with two slips, more holding areas for vehicles and an overhead pedestrian ramp that leads from the ferry passenger deck to a Sound Transit rail and bus station. All the features are intended to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety in Mukilteo.

At the meeting, large cards were also placed about the room describing the history, plans and goals of the project. Papers were left on a large table in the middle of the room for written comments, as well. The comments are part of the environmental review process for the new terminal.

The Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route is heavily used by South Whidbey residents and visitors each year as the main transportation on and off Whidbey Island. During peak season, motorists often wait in line for hours in the summer every day.

After the meeting, reaction was mixed to the new terminal, which would allow the ferry system to have three ferries on the run. Currently, two ferries make the run.

Several residents supported the terminal and the improved access it would give to bus and train services.

“My feeling is that this is going to make Mukilteo better,” said John Hannam, a Clinton resident who often commutes on the ferry.

Others, though, said that an increased volume of traffic will make an already dangerous situation for pedestrians worse and more planning is needed.

“My major complain is they are only looking at the one side,” said Clinton resident Bob Effertz.

Larry Webster, another Clinton resident, said the speed of vehicles leaving the ferry discourage pedestrians from walking across Highway 525.

Effertz, Webster and Phil Moore are all members of the non-partisan Clinton community forum, which discusses issues relevant to Clinton. They said road medians, crosswalks, more speed limit signs, lowering the highway, and even a tunnel under the highway, should be considered for pedestrian safety before adding a third ferry.

“The challenge is to accommodate ferry traffic and maintain the character of the Clinton community,” Webster said.

Rather than building the terminal, said Clinton resident Ken McLaughlin, the ferry system should build two-level roadway at the terminals and modify the ferries to accommodate them. The change would allow vehicles and pedestrians to enter and exit on a two-level roadway. An upper roadway would meet with an upper ramp on ferry boats. Vehicles on the lower level would disembark at the same time.

He said the present system, which has been in place since ferries began carrying vehicles in the Puget Sound region, causes unnecessary delays and safety problems for pedestrians. Some drivers are delayed for several minutes while the ferries unload.

With a two-ramp system, McLaughlin said, it would take ferries 10 minutes to complete the 2.8-mile Mukilteo to Clinton and load and unload. The route now takes approximately 20 minutes.

Project Manager Nicole McIntosh said there are no plans for changes to the Clinton terminal, which had its dock replaced over the past five years. When asked about the dual level roadway idea, she said it would be too expensive to modernize all the ferries.

What does the project bring

Lori Simmons said she liked the idea because of the link-up with the Sound Transit train will allow her easy access to Seattle Mariners baseball games and Seattle Seahawks football games. She said she also hopes the train will eventually go to Sea-Tac Airport.

Robert Aldrich said he supports a multimodal ferry terminal because the population growth on Whidbey Island and number of tourists who now access it make the project inevitable. Unfortunately, Aldrich said, it will give more people, business and industry access to South Whidbey, which he described as a semi-retired farming community.

Judging from input, the ferries’ McIntosh said the new Mukilteo terminal will probably be built on a 4-acre site partially on the water. She said more vehicles will be able to park in holding area than is currently possible. Accessible from the Mukilteo Speedway, a road to the ferry would be built parallel to the railroad tracks. A more direct route to the terminal through an area called Japanese Gulch has also been discussed.

Early plans show the terminal being built at a former military fuel depot located about a half mile east of the present terminal.

Approximately $132 million has been set aside by the state for the project. Most of the funding comes from a 5-cent per gallon gas tax approved last year.

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