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Late-night ferry sailings on Clinton route to be dropped

FREELAND — Washington State Ferries will make several late-night adjustments to its weekend schedule this summer on the Clinton-Mukilteo route, ferry officials announced Monday.

The last ferry sailings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from Mukilteo will be dropped, and a new sailing will be added for Thursday night between the 9 and 10 p.m. runs.

Ray Deardorf, planning director for the state ferry system, said additional service hours have been added on the summer schedule for more than a decade.

The added hours mean more sailings during the early morning on Saturdays, and also Saturday and Sunday nights, but Deardorf said the last vessel to make the sailing to Whidbey on weekend nights has been mostly empty.

“While most of those times the boats are pretty well utilized, the last trip made on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night has been very light, between seven and 15 cars,” he said.

Because of added flexibility in crew work rules, Deardorf said a 9:25 p.m. sailing would be added on Thursday nights on a trial basis this summer. The 12:30 a.m. sailing from Mukilteo on weekend nights will be dropped.

“We leave about 50 cars on the dock between the 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock ferries. so that’s a much better use of that staff,” he said.

The changes are being made on a trial basis.

“Well try it for the summer,” Deardorf said. “I think it will be quite popular.”

At Monday’s meeting, one of the first in a series of community meetings this month held by Washington State Ferries throughout Puget Sound, ferry officials also announced increased staffing for the Mukilteo terminal. The added workers will allow the ferry system to use the traffic holding lanes that have been built on the former Buzz Inn property.

Washington State Ferries has been harshly criticized in the past for not using the new lanes, which were installed last year in an expansion project that cost more than $2 million.

David Moseley, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries, said staffing is being increased for the Mukilteo terminal on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights so the new lanes can be used.

And supervisors have been told that if more help is needed at other times during the summer, Moseley said, “we will expand the staffing needs so that we are able to utilize the full lot there.”

“If we’re backing up cars really far up the hill, and we’re not using all of the lot, we need to be using all of the lot,” Moseley said.

Ferry officials also outlined other changes at the Mukilteo terminal. Engineering work has started on a right-turn lane at the intersection next to Ivar’s that the state hopes will solve some of the traffic problems that arise during ferry loading and unloading. The new lane would be created by using the lane currently used for van pools and motorcycles, and the sidewalk would be moved further east.

Nicole McIntosh, of the state ferries’ terminal engineering department, said other changes include adding signals for pedestrians at the Mukilteo Speedway-Front Street intersection, and moving the traffic light from the bridge span for the ferry closer to Front Street.

Roughly two dozen people attended the meeting, which included a brief discussion of safety hazards that seniors and others face when they have to walk up to the toll booths in Mukilteo to buy walk-on tickets, as well as criticism of the State Patrol’s hotline for reporting people who cut in the ferry line.

Moseley also gave an update on the construction of new ferries, and said the 64-car ferry Chetzemoka should be in service on the Keystone-Port Townsend route by late summer. The Chetzemoka is currently in the Everett Shipyard for final outfitting.

“If we are able to bring this boat in — the first boat of a new class — on time, it will be a miracle,” he said.

It will also be a testament, he said, to the ferry system’s changed approach on managing construction projects.

Moseley also mentioned the ferry system’s work to rebuild ridership, which has fallen by nearly 3 million in the past decade.

He said an audit of customer service has started, and added that the Legislature has given the green light for Washington State Ferries to move forward on its marketing plan.

Ferry officials say the image of Washington State Ferries has been hurt in recent years by negative media attention on rising fares, service disruptions and other issues, and the marketing plan will help “transform the brand” of the ferry system with the public so more people will ride the ferries. It will also help promote a reservation system for riders.

The Legislature has set aside $1.1 million for the marketing program through 2011, and the program is expected to cost $2.3 million in the second and third phases. Initially, the effort includes hiring a sales-and-marketing coordinator and a Web marketing specialist.

Moseley also announced that Dave Hoogerwerf, a member of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee, has been named the co-chairman of the FAC Executive Council for the 14 committees.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a big promotion,” Hoogerwerf said.

He said he hoped his new role will give South Whidbey greater representation on ferry issues.

“It’s kind of like being a politician; when you go back to Washington, D.C., you try to bring home the bacon. That’s what I’ll try to do, too.”

“I doubt if there will be much bacon, though,” Hoogerwerf quickly added.

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