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New Clinton-Mukilteo ferry lanes create a whole lot of controversy

The new ferry-traffic holding lanes sit unused in Mukilteo due to a lack of state funding for more terminal workers. - Brian Kelly / The Record
The new ferry-traffic holding lanes sit unused in Mukilteo due to a lack of state funding for more terminal workers.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

Whidbey commuters have a lot to be angry about.

A parking lot.

The recent rejection of a proposed parking area in Mukilteo for commuters from the island has renewed criticism over one of the reasons for fewer places to park for two-car travelers to the mainland: the expansion of the holding area for the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry run.

The state paid more than $2 million to tear down the Buzz Inn restaurant and double the size of the lot to 24 lanes for ferry-bound traffic.

But the project meant the loss of 18 overnight parking spaces for Whidbey commuters. And some are further incensed that Washington State Ferries built the expensive expansion but never got enough money to pay for the staff needed to direct drivers in and out of the new holding lanes.

The 12 new lanes — built to prevent cars from backing up Highway 525 and creating traffic snarls in Mukilteo — have largely gone unused since last summer, and ferry officials say there’s no money in the budget to use the new lanes now or during the busy tourist season this summer.

“That whole thing is a slap in the face to every taxpayer in the state of Washington,” said Ivan Solkey, a South Whidbey resident and frequent ferry user.

“The state paid for the closure of the Buzz Inn, paid for moving the tenants, and paid for all the land improvements, the paving and the four- or five-year lease,” he said.

“And now we can’t use it.”

The state Legislature approved funding for the expanded ferry holding area in the 2008 session, according to Washington State Ferries.

The total cost for the project was $1.57 million, and included design, permitting, the demolition of the Buzz Inn, construction and the relocation of residents who lived in four apartments on the property. Displaced tenants, and the restaurant, were paid $164,000 to move.

The state is also paying the owners of the property, A&J Enterprises, to lease the parcel. The lease is $202,000 a year on the four-year lease, or $210,000 annually if two two-year extensions are granted.

David Moseley, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries, said the new holding lanes are not being used because the state ferry system doesn’t have money to pay for the extra personnel needed in Mukilteo to manage the extra lanes.

“We’re working on trying to identify resources that would allow us to increase the staffing hours so we can do that,” Moseley said.

Moseley said he has talked with state Rep. Marko Liias, a lawmaker from the 21st Legislative District which includes Mukilteo, to see if additional funding can be found to properly staff the ferry terminal.

Solkey and other Whidbey residents have suggested using the new holding lanes for those who leave a car on the mainland for their commute to work. More than a hundred islanders park their cars overnight in Mukilteo so they can walk aboard the ferry in Clinton and avoid waiting in long lines to get off the island. For most, it means a shorter commute than driving a car onto the ferry in Clinton and off in Mukilteo.

Much of the overnight parking for commuters in Mukilteo is evaporating, though, because two overnight Diamond parking lots near the Mukilteo Lighthouse are being taken over by the city of Mukilteo. Another 100 leased overnight Diamond parking spaces at the Rosehill Community Center disappeared last summer to make way for a new building.

Mukilteo doesn’t permit overnight parking on downtown streets. Add to that the spaces lost by the Buzz Inn project — and the recent rejection of the Mukilteo City Council of a 300-car lot off the Mukilteo Speedway — the parking crunch has led to new calls for turning the unused ferry holding lanes into temporary parking.

“It seems like the simplest fix to me, at least in the short term,” Solkey said.

“It makes sense that if they’re not using it, give it back and let us use it,” he said.

Moseley said the ferry system isn’t willing to give up its new holding lanes.

“It is needed. We do have cars backing up the hill, particularly on the peak times: Thursdays, Friday, Saturday late afternoon and evening,” he said.

Moseley also said state ferry officials had originally asked the Legislature for additional funding to provide the extra workers needed for the expanded Mukilteo terminal, but lawmakers said no.

Solkey places the blame squarely on Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the 10th District lawmaker who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

“Mary Margaret Haugen is the real villain in all of this,” Solkey said.

Haugen, however, stressed the state would find money to use the new holding lanes — in time for the busy summer tourist season.

Though she added that while the Legislature’s supplemental budget had not yet been presented, the funding would be there.

“I can assure them that’s what’s going in,” Haugen said. “There’s no question about it; the money will be there.”

“The money will be in the Senate budget for those additional workers,” she said.

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